Conservation, Eco-friendly, Green, Sustainability

Xeriscaping Makes Beautiful Landscapes Even In Droughts

Xeriscaping is the key to having a beautiful landscape even in drought conditions.
Succulents are great to use for xeriscaping because they are drought-tolerant and beautiful. Image via Pixabay

A recent study showed than in 2010, Los Angeles was losing about 100 gallons of water per person per day. Lawns accounted for 70 percent of that water loss.

While that loss was probably mitigated by mandatory water use restrictions that were imposed in 2014 in response to the severe drought in the area, the restrictions were lifted in 2017 after an abundantly wet spring. Will the loss of restrictions inspire Angelenos to keep dumping water into their lawns, or have the majority of them come to see that it’s important to plant native, drought-tolerant species?

It’s hard to know as of now, but since Southern California is primarily desert, we hope that more Los Angeles residents have gotten in the habit of xeriscaping—landscaping with drought-tolerant, native species.

The fundamental principles of xeriscaping revolve around water conservation. Landscape designers look for ways to reduce the amount of irrigation and maximize the use of what natural precipitation there is.

Soil improvement is a key in xeriscaping. The ideal soil in a water-conserving landscape drains quickly and stores water at the same time. This may seem contradictory, but for many species, increasing the amount of organic material in the soil and keeping it aerated serves this purpose. However, if your xeriscape includes a lot of cacti or succulents, don’t do the soil amendments; those species are designed to survive in the untreated native soils of the region.

Using drought-resistant native plants is important in any xeriscape. Most of these plants have small, thick, glossy, silver-gray or fuzzy leaves; the way these leaves are made helps them to save water. Also, if you must have a lawn, make it a small one to minimize water use. And don’t put plants with high and low water needs in the same area, so don’t plant your succulents next to your lawn or fruit trees.

By covering the soil around plants with mulch, you’ll help the soil retain water, prevent erosion, and block out weeds that compete with the plants you want. Mulch needs to be several inches thick in order to be effective, and it will need more applied (a practice called “top dressing”) as the existing mulch blends with the soil.

When it comes to irrigation, soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems work the best because they help you avoid overwatering and deliver the water right to the base of the plant. They also deliver water at a slow rate, which is ideal for the deep and infrequent watering needed for a xeriscape.

The best thing about a xeriscaped yard is that it’s low-maintenance. You don’t need to seed or mow the lawn, or use massive amounts of fertilizer or weed killer. In fact, the only thing you’ll really need to do is ensure that weeds aren’t growing through your mulch (if they are, thicken the mulch layer) and that if you are using grasses, you keep them taller so that they become a natural mulch that shades roots and helps retain water.

Do you xeriscape? What are your thoughts on the benefits and burdens of xeriscaping? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Climate Change, Nature

Climate Change Could Cause Megadroughts Lasting 35 Years

Megadroughts lasting 35 years may become part of our reality if climate change continues at its present rate.
Photo: Shutterstock

Megadroughts, dry periods which can last up to 35 years, don’t happen often, but there is ample evidence that they’ve occurred in the American Southwest between 1300 and 100 BCE. We also know that major droughts, whether megadroughts or not, have destroyed several ancient civilizations.

Drought is something to take very seriously because recent a recent study led by Cornell University suggests that the chances of such a megadrought striking in the American Southwest will increase significantly over the course of this century.

As the average temperature around the Earth goes up, soil will have a harder time holding on to moisture, and the way water is balanced between soil, plants, and the surface will change. In places like the Southwest, which are already dry, this could be disastrous.

If global temperatures go up by 2 degrees Celsius over the next century, it will increase the chances of a Southwest megadrought over the next century by 20 to 50 percent. If they hit 4 degrees Celsius, that chance increase to 70 to 99 percent.

While “over the next century” may not seem too soon, bear in mind that the year 2100 is part of that century, as are the 34 years after it, and you could well have family members who live through it.

There is still hope, though. If scientists can develop a system to drastically cut greenhouse gases, something that a lot of researchers around the country are already trying to do, we can prevent the temperature from rising that much and keep the chances of a megadrought closer to what they are, which, while it isn’t 0 percent, it is a lot less likely.

“I wouldn’t ever bet against our ability to, under pressure, come up with solutions and ideas for surmounting these challenges, said study co-author Jason Smerdon of Columbia University, “but the sooner we take this seriously and start planning for it, the more options we will have and the fewer serious risks we’ll face.”

Climate Change, Nature, Science

Climate Change Speeds Up Snowmelt and Drought Risk Grows in West

Snow melts on Mount Rainier and water runs off the Wilson Glacier and disappears under the NIsqually Glacier.
Snow melts on Mount Rainier and water runs off the Wilson Glacier and disappears under the NIsqually Glacier. Photo: Jim Culp | FlickrCC.

In the Western parts of North America, mountains play a big part in the water cycle. Colorado and Washington snowmelt contributes to how much water is captured in the ground, used by plants, or makes its way into groundwater.

It also joins streams and flows downhill to cities and rural areas. Climate change can have a big impact on snowmelt as global average temperatures rise.

Water on mountains deposited in the form or rain or snow either evaporates or flows downhill. The way that water collects on the mountains has an impact on water flow. Rainwater tends to disappear more quickly, while snow takes longer to melt and allows for a more consistent, and longer, addition of water to streams and so watersheds.

The result is that, as we saw in Washington in 2015, if it doesn’t snow enough, you don’t get as much water coming down from the mountains in the spring and summer, and you end up with a drought.

According to a study performed by researchers in Colorado, rising temperatures can have a hug impact on how much water makes it from the mountains to the lowlands. Higher temperatures generally mean less snow, though not always less precipitation. But as we’ve already seen, snowmelt has a more gradual effect, and if water isn’t running downhill, it needs to be brought from reservoirs and other sites.

The key take away from the study is that water resource managers need to know how different forms of precipitation interact with their local environments, in order to best budget for water consumption during growing seasons.

Although the researchers have more work to do on the subject, this initial study should help western states and provinces deal with potential droughts a little better.

Nature, Science, United States

The Science Behind the Death Valley Super Bloom

Wildflowers filled Death Valley for about two months during the recent super bloom event. It was the best bloom in several years.
Wildflowers filled Death Valley for about two months during the recent super bloom event. It was the best bloom in several years. Photo: National Park Service.

You may have heard about the Death Valley super bloom earlier this March from the abundance of photo essays on the Internet. In case you missed it, the super bloom is a period of rapid flower growth in Death Valley, one of the hottest, driest deserts in the world, where plant life is normally sparse.

During super blooms, there are flowers everywhere. Although by mid-March many of the plants are already fading away in the lower parts of the valley the can still be found at higher elevations.

Super blooms are rare, the last one was in 2005, and they’re caused by the El Niño effect. During these periods Death Valley gets far more water than normal. All deserts get some rain, and Death Valley is no different, usually netting about around 2 inches each year. But in late 2015, huge amounts of rain fell in the valley, causing flash floods that put several roads out of commission.

Much of that water seeped into the ground, where it allowed dormant seeds to grow, resulting in massive wildflower blooms. The flowers rest in the dry soil of Death Valley for years at a time, waiting for events like these rainstorms.

Combined with the subsequent mild weather of winter, these seeds were able to sprout and quickly grow. They then produce seeds before the temperatures get to high again, allowing those seeds to lie dormant until the next heavy rain season.

Twenty species of wildflower were on display in Death Valley for about two months, including the Desert Gold, with bright yellow, daisy like flowers that, this year at least, reached waist height in some places.

It’s a pretty potent reminder that nature is generally far more varied and resourceful than we give it credit for, and even in a place like Death Valley, life finds a way.

Business, Conservation, Sustainability

Turning Sewage Water Into Something Drinkable

At Orange County’s Caspers Wilderness Park showers are currently unavailable for campers due to current drought conditions throughout the state of California.
At Orange County’s Caspers Wilderness Park showers are currently unavailable for campers due to current drought conditions throughout the state of California. Photo: Mechanoid Dolly | FlickrCC.

Dow Chemical Co. and Dupont Co., two American chemical industry giants that are 118 and 213 years old, respectively, recently announced a $130 billion merger deal that would take two years to complete. Led by activist investor Dan Loeb, hedge fund Third Point LLC suggested Dow Chemical split its specialty chemical and petrochemical businesses. As part of the deal, the merged company will split into three separate entities—focused on agriculture, specialty chemicals, and materials.

In the midst of this landmark deal, Dow is continuing to solidify its place as a leader in the industry—this time on behalf of California. As California continues to deal with one of the most severe droughts on record for the fourth year in a row, Orange County—with the help of Dow Chemical—is doubling down on its unusual strategy for drinking water.

Bloomberg recently toured the facility with Snehal Desai, Dow Chemical’s global business director of the water division. It’s the largest facility in the world that practices “toilet-to-tap” technology—a complex filtration system that transforms raw sewage into an end product that’s fresher than some bottled waters. The plant, located next to the county’s water treatment facility, pumps out 100 million gallons of drinking water daily, enough to supply almost 1 million Orange County residents. The county plans to increase the output of its groundwater replenishment system by approximately 50 percent.

“Recycled wastewater will probably be the single largest source of water for California over the next quarter century,” says executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies Tim Quinn. This goes for many other water-strapped regions of the world, including Australia, China, India, Israel, Spain, the Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa, where they have developed recycled wastewater systems for irrigation. Many areas are beginning to convert their systems to create fresh drinking water. San Diego also recently announced plans to generate 33 percent of its water from recycled sewage by 2035.

Dow Chemical has been a dominant player in advanced materials engineering for more than 100 years, generating $57 billion revenue a year in 180 countries in the world. “If not Dow, then who?” asks Desai. “The future water supply is a big-ass problem. We’ve got growing urban populations, growing industries, and dwindling resources. Who can tackle something of this magnitude? You need patience and horsepower to come up with solutions and to scale them. You can’t do that without big-boy company money.”

Ultimately, Desai believes that the same technology could accommodate individual households. Every city in the world will have to start rethinking the foundation of its water supply. “Not every city has an ocean, not everyone has good lakes and rivers,” Desai says. “But everybody’s got sewage.”

Climate Change, Nature

California Experiencing Most Severe Drought Ever Recorded

California drought is the worst ever recorded
California is currently experiencing the worst drought on record. Image: Shutterstock

Over half of California has now reached the most severe level of drought for the first time since the federal government began issuing regular drought reports in the late 1990s. As of Thursday, July 31st, over 58 percent of the state was declared under exceptional drought, a shocking increase of more than 20 percent from the previous week.

The impacts of this current drought will be profound for the state, including estimated economic losses of over $2.2 billion for California agriculture industry. The entire state has been in a severe drought since May, but levels have been spiking even more since then during the summer months.

“It’s hard because the drought is not over and you’re in the dry season. Our eyes are already on next winter,” Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center said. “Outside of some freakish atmospheric conditions, reservoir levels are going to continue to go down. You’re a good one to two years behind the eight ball.”

Not only have these environmental conditions been severe this year, California is now in its third year of drought. The implications of the drought have gotten so bad that people may have to move out of the state if this continues. Lynn Wilson, academic chair at Kaplan University and on the climate change delegation in the United Nations, says, “We may have to migrate people out of California.”

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is a conservative panel drawing from 800 scientists around the world, sad it’s more likely than not that man-made global warming is causing these longer and more intense droughts in many regions including the Midwest and California. Time will tell if California residents start to move away from their state or not, but one thing is clear: global warming has undoubtedly influenced this drought, and it’s time for policymakers to start taking heed of the changing environmental conditions in the United States.

Climate Change, Environmental Hazards

Extreme Weather Threatens Africa

Flooding in Tanzania
Flooding, like that of Tanzania in 2011, seriously threatens food security.
Vadim Petrakov /

Strange events in extreme weather patterns due to climate change in Africa are proving that any stability in long-troubled countries may be threatened both by drought, flooding and rising sea levels.  In Senegal, villages around the city of St. Louis have been abandoned as their homes, once a mile away from shore, morphed into swimming pools from the encroaching ocean.   The former French colony capital has seen erosion of its beaches and an increase in flooding.  Meanwhile, a thousand miles south in Ghana, farmers worry that both flood and drought will threaten food security.

After flooding worried city managers in St. Louis in 2003, a channel was built to try and saw the waters outside of the city.  However, the channel was not enough to stop the beach from eroding, and the village of Doun Baba Dieye has already disappeared.  The rise in flooding also has created concern for the high percentages of impoverished homes that do not receive trash collection or are connected to a sewage system. Flood waters could create widespread contamination and disease if the raw sewage mixes into the city.  Climate scientists have reported the rise in rainfall and the average temperature in the area have increased consistently over the last decade.

The World Food Program recently reported that 16% of Ghana residents suffer from hunger, and cited climate change as part of the reason, although the main cause of hunger is poverty.  However, if storms and drought periods increase, as studies are showing, the cost of food will spike and create even higher food insecurity.  Food insecurity would likely cause unrest, massive immigration and death.