A Race for Saving Water

On Apr 14, 2018,   I participated the Great Race for Saving Water in Palo Alto.  This is the fifth Earth Day celebration hosted by city of Palo Alto.  It is a 5K run/walk and kids 1K fun run to “raise awareness about water resources, conservation and environmental health”.

Great Race for Saving Water

Great Race for Saving Water 2

The race would start at 9am.  From the early morning,  people started streaming into the start venue, Palo Alto Baylands Athletic Center.  Once there, a lot of exciting things were already waiting.

A water truck – H2O On the Go

You have seen food trucks, but have you seen a water truck?  One of the first thing that would catch anyone’s eyes  was a water truck, Santa Clara Water District’s “H2O to Go”.

As Santa Clara Water District describes on the truck’s website, “Standing 11 feet tall, the water dispenser-on-wheels holds approximately 500 gallons of chilled tap water; about enough to fill 8,000 servings in 8-ounce cups. Under a roll-out canopy on each side, residents can fill up at any of the vehicle’s 14 dispensers, seven on each side. The cold, refreshing water is from the district’s water treatment plants, which supply Santa Clara County with clean, safe and high-quality water. Water from our treatment plants consistently meets or exceeds all state and federal regulations, which continually grow more stringent. Drinking tap water also helps to protect the environment. With enough water to replace almost 4,000 water bottles, the water truck can save the earth from 105 pounds of plastic waste”.

water truck

There are so many benefits drinking from tap like these in the truck versus bottle.  A big portion of bottled water actually is just tap water;  while the tap water costs consumer almost nothing ($0.004/gallon), bottled water costs 300 times more, at $1.22/gallon.   Despite all these, the bottled water consumption has increased tremendously in the last several decades.  Per capita consumption increased 3 fold from 9.8 gallons per person annually in 1991 to 30.8 in 2012.

One huge issue stemming from this massive consumption is pollution.  Globally, humans buy 1 million plastic bottles per minute; however, 91% of the plastic is not recycled.  A huge number of plastic bottles end up in landfill, and a big part of them go into ocean.   According to Ocean Conservancy, plastics are believed to threaten at least 600 different wildlife species90% of seabirds are now eating plastics on a regular basis; by 2050, that figure is expected to rise to 100%; At that time, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.   To manage the issue, Europe is planning to ban 10 single use plastic items that make up for 70% of all litter in EU waters and on beaches.  While we all need to drink water, we definitely do not need more plastic bottles.

Everyone would enjoy some cold, refreshing water, especially after running at a race.  Before the water truck,  water supplied to thirsty runners at a race like this would be just boxes after boxes of bottles.  As there are over 30,000 organized races and close to 17 million race finishers in the US a year, suppose one runner at least consumes 1 bottle, the races in US alone will generate 17 million bottles, with a big portion of that ending in landfill and oceans!  The Great Race was estimated to be attended by 1000 people.  By providing a water truck, the race organizer and Santa Clara Water District removed at least 1K bottles from this event.  Kudos to them for quenching the thirst for the runners, and doing a great thing for the environment!

Here, no bottle was found at the bins:

A leaky toilet

At 9am, the race started.  In the race, one could not help but notice something that was rather unusual  – a running “leaky toilet”; to be more concise, someone who was wearing a costume of a toilet.  Why a toilet?  Well, it carried a rather big message about water.

According to Peninsula Press, “Leaky toilets are just one source of common water wastage in home, since one out of five homes may have a toilet in any given year, according to Ora Chaiken from WaterSmart Software. She reprised her role as the “running toilet”, which participants tried to catch during the 5k and 1k fun runs.”

Leaks are a big source of water waste.  Up to 50% of households will experience some kind of water leak in a given year;  according to EPA,  household leaks can waste more than 1 trillion gallons annually nationwide. enough for more than 11 million homes’ annual water use!  As water leaks can waste so much water, we should do everything we can to prevent and fix it immediately when it happens.

We all understand the importance of using high water efficiency products, like the high efficiency toilet shown here, to save water. However,  if leaks happen, any  savings can be wiped out, and more.  It is good that we use these products, like the toilet, or water efficient irrigation such as drip ; equally important though, is that we can prevent, detect and fix any leaks quickly when they happen.

leaky toilet
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Plant a garden with native plants

There were quite a few partner booths and activities at the festival.  Here, a landscape designer was giving a presentation about landscaping with California native plants.  Compared with a lawn, a garden with drought tolerant and native plants can save water significantly.  In addition, these plants can provide habitat for pollinators like bees, birds and butterflies, providing rich biodiversity and supporting a healthy eco system, which a lawn can not.  A garden can also add so much color and textures to the space, making it attractive and adding the curb appeal for the house.

Outdoor landscaping accounts for half of the urban water use in California, which is a lot.  To save water, replacing a lawn with a water efficient gardens is one of the most effective ways.  Plant some wild flowers, save water and help out the bees and birds.  They will surely be grateful!

wild flower presentation
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Kids Played a Big Part

When one came to the festival, they would find this sure was an event not just for adults, but also for kids.  There were kids everywhere, from little babies to teenagers; There was an 1K fun run just for kids.  For a kid,  there were so many fun things to look and do.  The smokey bear!  The eagle!

Smokey bear
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Eagle
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water

With global warming, pollution and other environmental issues, our globe is facing some serious challenges, which will just become more serious if not managed well.  This makes it really important for kids to be involved early, to become educated in the topics about earth, environment and sustainability.

When today’s kids grow up, they will inherit the earth with all the issues and challenges; what they learn now can prepare them for the challenges then; furthermore, if they understand the importance today, they can join join adults and do something to prevent, reduce or slow down the impact of these issues.  For example, our water supply from snowpack might decline by 60% in just 20 years.  Facing such a future, kids should learn today how precious our wate is, and what they can do now to conserve water.  By chasing the “leaky toilet”, they will understand the significance of preventing water losses like leaks.  When they grow up, in a world that will have less stable water supply than today, they will fully appreciate the value of water and try to come up with ways to use it well. Out of the many things they will do,  they might design a better toilet that have less leaks, and save more water.

Kids chasing leaky toilet
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
#1 kid
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Win at the race

Well, beyond all the fun activities, this still was a race.  I was just planning to have a good time and did not prepare anything special for the race.  After the race started, I dashed through the 5K.  When they announced the winner for each age group, to my happy surprise, I won 1st place in my age group.

Luckily, in our long race towards a clean and sustainable earth, not just one person, or a group, a country, or one generation  can be the winner.  All of us can.  If we come together and work together, if we bring our kids along, we will all win in the end.   The sky will still be blue, water still be clean in the next generation, and the next.

The Great Race for Saving Water has been a very fun and educational event, blending in sports, games, plants, animals and many more to give everyone an abundant dose of fun and information.  It is truly a Great Race for Saving Water.

race finish
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water

Birds At an Aquatic Habitat: What Changes Could You See After Storms?

In Santa Clara county where the Silicon Valley is located, Los Gatos Creek is one of the few urban streams that remains relatively intact throughout countless developments in the area during the last 200 years.  The stream originates in the Santa Cruz Mountains, flows into the Vasona Reservoir, winds through a small valley, and clears into the Guadalupe river that finally empties into the San Francisco Bay.  It is one of the many steams and creeks in the vast Guadalupe River watershed, and a habitat for many wetland species.

Los Gatos Creek Map

Watersheds are critical habitats for birds, fishes and other animals that live a wetland environment.  200 years ago, before any of the modern developments, the creek must have been a heaven for the birds and fishes.  At the time, all kinds of birds could be seen flying in the sky and resting in the creek; fishes swimming through the creek in massive numbers.

Unfortunately, in the 200 years since, “about 90% of California’s original aquatic habitat has been altered or destroyed through human activities”, more than any other states in the nation.  What we see in Los Gatos Creek today is one of the 10% that remains.

Los Gatos Creek

Today many of the parks like Los Gatos Creek often provides the only refuge in urban areas for native wetland species.  They have been living here for tens of  thousands of years.   During migration season some species of birds will also come and use the place as a resting area, critical for their survival.  If the park no longer exists, or its environment dramatically changes, it can be devastating for all the birds that have been depending on it for so many years.

Bird sightings at normal time

The birds that can be seen most often are Canadian goose.

Los Gatos Creek

Canada Goose

Great egret and snowy egret can also be seen from time to time.

snowy egret

This was in the migration season of November.  These birds were taking a rest before they flew out to their next destination.

Bird sightings after storms in 2016 winter

After an epic, historic 5 year drought, starting from late fall of 2016, California went from extremely dry to extremely wet, with record breaking rainfalls.   Heavy rains pummeled from late fall all the way  into spring, in some places floods and mudslides occurred.  At Los Gatos creek, parts of the trail were also flooded several times.

Flood

The new “stream” in the previous trail was quickly discovered by some lovely “guests”.  They came in swiftly, playing in this new playground of theirs, relaxing, fishing and enjoying a good meal!

Feeding

Same as these ducks, quite some birds found out the new water and came right in.  Here is normally what you would see when you cross a bridge to enter the trail and look down at the water .  The right side of the creek bed is completely dry.  On the morning after several heavy storms in January, though, the whole span of the creek bed was fully filled with flood water.  On the muddy yellow water you could see these two little birds, guests that were not seen here before.

Creek

Two Birds

They are hooded mergansers.

After you walked a bit more along the trail, there was another surprise waiting.  A Double Crested Cormorant was “relaxing” on a tree, which was never seen here either.  She streatched her wings, turning her head from left to right, right to left, then left to right….with the kind of excitement of a baby.  In the second photo, the two small birds could also be seen swimming in the same place.

Bird

Bird 2

The cormorant really liked it here. In the next 2-3 weeks you can see her swimming, resting and relaxing in this particular spot.

Bird

Bird

Bird

Even more surprises ahead.  After you went further down the creek and came to this spot – Look!  literally a bird’s paradise.  So many birds, of different species, gathered here, rested in this comfy patch made from branches and grasses brought by the flood water.  The patch was right in the middle of the creek, providing the birds all they needed: food, shelter, and a fun place to hang out.  After just one  day, though, the patch was gone, so went all the birds.  Such a view was not seen again.

birds after storm

A great blue heron, and a great egret:

Birds

In the next 2-3 weeks when it continued to rain hard, more birds usually unseen could be found at the creek.

Bird

Bird

2 couples of the mallard duck.  Look at that beautiful blue stripe.

A big group of the American coot, on the flooded trail.  While coots can be seen often, such a big group was only seen during this time.

birds

A big bird was seen here at the tree right beside the trail, towards the end of the rainy season. She really enjoyed the tree and stayed on it for hours, ignoring all the people who passed by on the trail.  She was seen only once.  This is a black-crowned night-heron.

Bird on a tree

Birds, habitat, and water

The heavy rains at Los Gatos Creek gave us a valuable opportunity to observe how a sudden increased level of water would mean for the creek habitat, and the ecosystem.  If we just look at the birds, the answer is clear: they loved all that water.  While we don’t have a count for the birds’ numbers during the storm time, the number of species, and the size of the bird groups we saw, increased quite significantly.  This happened with just 2 months of storms, one could only imagine how it would turn out if the same rains continued for a longer time.

In the last 5 years, when California experienced the epic drought, the birds, and the whole ecosystem at the aquatic habitats must have been very stressed.  They lost a big chunk of their habitat; at the habitats that did remain, water was way more scarce than usual.  As Professor Peter Moyle from University of California, Davis pointed out, “Drought is hard enough on us, and on farmers, and cities, and so forth.  It’s really hard on the fish, really hard on the aquatic and riparian systems.”

Continue with water conservation

Water will just become more scare in the future, relative to our demand for it, with population growth, economic expansion, and climate change.  How can we manage and use it , so that we not only will have enough for ourselves, but also for the birds and fishes in the aquatic and reparian habitats?

While all kinds of solutions are being explored, one thing is clear: we must continue to conserve water,  which is the easiest and cheapest solution among all.  In California, we use half of our water in outdoor landscaping.  If we can all switch to water efficient gardening, we can surely save a significant amount of water.  As we see in the picture, when we save water with drought tolerant plants like these Mexican bush sages, we no only save for us, but also those birds in the creek.

Lake

 

A Purple Dream – From Start to Bloom

When this garden was transformed from a weedy turf to a water efficient garden, not only would it save water, but a seed of a purple dream was also planted.  When the garden was being planned, the idea was to have this dream place with the purple splendor.  Lavenders lined two complete sides of the garden, as well as the parking strip.  When the garden was finished, everyone was eager to find out: when will the purple walk come into life?

weedy turf

a garden with lavender

a walk with lavenders on both sides

Growth in Spring

Spring 2017 was a season blessed with heavy rains.  After the garden was done in early spring, in two months of time, the plants had grown a lot.

lavenders grew up

While the lavenders had not bloomed, rockroses put on their pretty pink flowers, giving the garden that “pop”, just in time when the pink and red blossom from camillas receded.

Rockroses are drought tolerant, require only little water once established. Planted in early spring, the blossom broke out after just 2 months.  Tough yet pretty, this is a great choice for a water efficient garden.

rockrose

 

These other plants also grew a lot and bloomed.

Yellow Bloom

Purple Blossom in Summer

With waves of heat the summer arrived.  How are the lavenders?  The purple that everyone have been waiting is here!

purple blossom

Most lavenders had their first bloom, just couple months after they were planted.  Not a full blown purple walk yet, but very clearly heading there.

purple walk

Walking on the sidewalk, you can smell that strong aroma of lavender’s. They remind you of those wildflower meadows out in the country under the blue sky. Meanwhile, you can see dozens of bees flying in the bushes, making the buzz sound everywhere they go.

Great for Bees

Like many other native and drought tolerant plants, lavender is a bee’s magnet. Bees love to feed on them, better yet, they bloom for a long time, usually from summer to early fall, which means they can provide food to the bees for a rather long period.  As bees are on on a decline, planting more bee friendly plants like lavender has become more important.

bees on lavender

Lavenders are drought tolerant.  As a matter of fact, they don’t like to stay in wet soils.  Over-watering is one of the most common reasons that lavenders die.  Using drip irrigation, just provide enough water when first planted, then water it occasionally once established – they can grow fast and well.

drip irrigation

A Purple Dream With Less Water

When the garden was built, it was designed to be water efficient: drought tolerant plants, drip irrigation, automatic controller with rain sensor.  The garden complied with all the requirements of Santa Clara Water District’s Landscape Conversion Rebate program and received the rebate upon finish.

In just several months, this garden grew from a collection of small plants into one filled with purple splendor and color.  It adds this nice view to the house, realize the “purple dream”, filled the air with the pleasant lavender aroma.  Better yet, all these were achieved with much less water than what were required for the lawn before.  Although California is no longer in a drought,  one big lessen we learned was that water is valuable, and we must cherish and conserve it to the best we can.

As Gov. Jerry Brown said, “Water conservation must remain our way of life.”  As ourdoor watering typically accounts for half or more of a household’s water use in California, building a water efficient garden can save us a significant amount of water and go a long way towards that goal.