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

Turn an Empty School Lot Into a Veggie Garden

On a beautiful April morning, on the campus of an elementary school in the Silicon Valley, just after the school start time, while the whole school went from the hustle and buzz accompanying drop off into a total quietness, at this corner, however, happy chatters and bursts of laughs could be heard some distance away.  Getting closer, one could see it was a class of 4th grade kids going to start on a veggie garden.

They were all very excited.  It was not their first time they did something related to a garden though – they did it before, kind of.

Start small

2 years ago, when California was still in the historic 5-year drought, in response to the call of conserving water, the school reduced the watering for its garden.   Like so many gardens across the area at that time, a big part of it went barren.  After the drought was over, though it was with a good reason, the garden could be improved.

Finally a proposal was made, “Let’s do something!”  It happened that at the time the kids at 3rd grade were learning about water and water conservation as part of the curriculum.  Why not let the kids be involved in the garden?  After all, after the project was to be finished, they would see it the most; and, this would be great education for gardening, and water it would take.

So the kids had a very different class on an afternoon, a discussion about the garden, and water.  What could we do about the garden?  What requirements must it meet?  Why is water so valuable?  To conserve water, what can we do?   Then came the fun part.  The kids were shown some of the plants, and they got to pick the ones they liked for the garden.  When they saw how the plants were like, they all got psyched up. “I like this one!”  “I like that one, I saw it on my hike!” “This one!” “No, that one!” “This one is like – I will just name it Medusa’s Hair!”

After half hour of shouts, exchanges and laughter, the plants were decided on.  The list was sent to the principle, and the garden was planted.

By next spring, the garden bloomed:

Another year went by, by spring, the garden has completely been filled in.  It was lovely, all plants were blooming in the spring breeze. From time to time, parents and kids could be spotted pausing to take in the view before hurrying away into a busy day.

The 3rd grade kids are now in their 4th grade, and they were assigned another research project for water conservation.   Another class discussion about water was held; at the end, everyone went out to take a look at the garden, something that they discussed and designed a year ago.  Once in in front of the garden, kids all got excited.  They asked about the names of the plants, remembering what they commented back then, shouted, laughing.

When everyone was just looking and chatting, some kids and teacher saw this plot of empty land next by, and wondered: “Can we put some there too?  It will look nicer.”

Definitely.  Actually, it can be a veggie garden!

Benefits of a school veggie garden

Kids can get so much out from building and growing a veggie garden.

Improve understanding of science – The gardening process involves a lot of STEM knowledge.  To plan for a garden, the first step is to find out its size.  To that end, one needs to measure, and calculate – that is math right there.  For plants to grow well, it needs good combination of water, sun and soil.  That is botany.  What is in the soil?  How to make it fertile? Chemistry.  In a garden, these subjects are not just some dry concepts in the book, but something kids need to apply to tackle problems in the real world.

Team work and communication – it is a team effort, from designing, planting to caring for the plants.  In the process, kids need to communicate, coordinate, do their own parts well, and come together to deliver a wonderful garden.  As the process usually takes several weeks to months, it provides ample opportunities for team-building.

Connection to nature, and food  – nowadays a typical day for a kid is filled with books, homework and screen times of mobile phones and computers.  There has been less and less outdoor time.  When they are eating, very few would know how all the food are like when they were grown on a farm.  By growing their own veggies, kids get to see the nature up close, and see how the veggies are before they become their food.   That can be a rich and rewarding experience.

Value the food, eat healthy  According to State of Obesity, “The latest data show that the national childhood obesity rate among 2- to 19-year-olds is 18.5 percent.” In other words, almost one in every 5 children are obese today.  That is an alarmingly high number.  While there are many ways to tackle the problem, one of the ways is to let  kids eat healthier, both quantitatively and qualitatively.  By growing their own veggie, kids will come to value their food much more, eat the healthy portion, and more likely to enjoy their  veggies.

Planting Day

Just like last time, kids played a big role in designing the garden and deciding on the veggies to plant.  Once the design was done, the project went underway.  Veggie beds were built, soil added, seedlings were purchased.  All was ready for the planting day!

After some instructions were given to the kids, the planting started!  Spinach, chard, tomato, strawberry, basil… very soon all the seedlings were planted.

A science teacher brought a box of the worms, kids just scooped them up and put in the soil.  They loved the worms!

Then they helped put some plants in an empty area around the veggie beds, which were all drought tolerant, and would have blossom that attract bees and butterflies.  With these plants, the space will not only look more appealing, but also attract the pollinators that can help the veggies.

All all the seedlings were planted, kids found the plant labels and put them next to each of the plant.  They wanted to learn about the plant names, and wanted the labels there for future reference.

Finally all was done!  Everyone were very happy with the beautiful new garden.  All it takes now is the time for the veggies to grow, and some care and watering.  Now the kids can sit back a little, watch the veggies grow, and wait for the harvest time!

Before

Now

(Below is added  5 weeks after planting)

First Harvest

In the weeks since planting, the veggies have all grown well, and grown up.

Two weeks later:

5 weeks later:

The end of school year was fast approaching.  A party would be held to celebrate.  Any idea for food at the party?

Harvest time!

While the tomatoes have not come yet, the lettuce ad chard were big enough for harvest.  After they tasted it, kids said: “Yum!”

When they were asked to write down the best memories from the last school year, all kids wrote about the garden.  One kid said, ” “It was nice to see our work come to fruition”  Another: “I love seeing the garden every day as I walk and leave school”.  And this one: “”I am so proud of making our school beautiful and leaving a part of me here, forever”.  Veggie garden not only gave kids some salad, but an experience that they cherish and love.

 

 

 

Great Makeover Story: From Barren to Beauty (1)

This story is about an amazing transformation from barren to beauty.

When the owners moved into the house, the first thing they wanted to change was the front and back yards.  It was barren, utterly unattractive.  The main part of the front yard was this hard surface covered with sand.  It had been used as a parking space for years.  The backyard had the similar hard sandy surface as the path, with a big bush of catti plants in the middle.  When it was windy, the sands from the surfaces would be blown up and hit everything around: people, dogs, kids.  It could be messy.

Barren old front yard

Old Back Yard

The owner wanted beautiful landscapes for their yards; meanwhile, they also wanted something that is environmentally friendly, that would not use a lot of water.  To be “good” to the environment was important for them.  They wanted to be efficient for all natural resources, keeping the footprint on environment as small as possible.

Addressing the challenges of building a garden

When one looked at the front yard, the challenges for building a garden was obvious.  A big lot.  Hard surface. No top soil.  And, on a slope.  For plants to grow well, at the minimum, they would need water and soil.  How would these be addressed?

Capture and reuse rain Water

When one checked on the site, they would see two downspouts, one on each side of the house, come right down to the lot.   They pointed to hard surface, which would just let the rainwater runoff.   That is quite a waste.   Rainwater is an excellent resource of water, which can be used to water plants.   To capture and reuse rain water, one can use a rain barrel, or build a rain garden.  As the the front yard is on a slope where rain water would flow down naturally, a rain garden built close to the bottom of the slope could capture the rain water and reuse it well.

Downspout 1
Downspout 1
Downspout 2
Downspout 2

When it doesn’t rain, plants still need water to establish and grow.  For irrigation of a water efficient garden, drip irrigation is the way to go.  It can point to the root area for each plant precisely, so water can get to where it is needed exactly, without mass runoff.  Compared with a sprinkler system, drip can save water by 30-60%.

Select hardy and drought tolerant plants

As the soil under the surface is very hard from years of being used as a parking lot, it was not the best soil for many plants.  Ideally, the soil could be improved with materials such as compost and organic matters over a longer period of time; however, the option was not  available due to the time limit of the project.  This made the selection of plants especially important.

Many native  and other plants are adapted to California’s soil system and can thrive in all kinds of soils.  They can be hardy for tough environments, and need little water once established.  They also have other benefits.  A lot of them produce blossom that are good food for pollinators like bees, butterflies and birds, supporting a vibrant Eco system.

California Native Plant

Repurpose of the existing plants

For the design of the back yard, it was decided that the bush of cactus plants would go; the space would be emptied for other uses.  The catti plants thrived well in the micro system around the house, making them a a good bet for the soil conditions in the front yard.  Instead of discarding them, the catti would be reused for front yard.

Catti Bush

Building the garden

After the design of the garden was finished, the project entered installment.

Installing a rain garden

There are several parts to this.  First, proper discharge of rain water from the down spout.  Instead of letting the rainwater just go down to the ground and run off, the water would be drained into the garden.  Ditches were dug, pipes were connected.   Two  channels were also dug from the end of the pipes to the rain garden.  When it rains, rain water would be discharged out of the pipes, into the channel, then flow into the rain garden.

Pipe 1

Pipe 2

Stream 1

Stream 2

Then an area was dug for the rain garden.   The shape of the rain garden usually is round or curvy, to reduce the force of runoff and effect of erosion.

After that, plants were put into the rain garden.  There are some special requirements for such plants.  Specifically, they should be able to stand both wet and dry conditions well.  Better yet, they can add color and texture to the garden, making the garden look even more attractive.

Lastly, the whole area of the channels and rain garden were filled with pebble stones.  Once the stones were added, two “streams” and a “pond” came into life.  When it rains, all the roof’s rain water would flow into the stream,  out to the pond, seep through the pebbles, water the plants, then percolate deep down and recharge ground water, an act badly needed for our environment.

Rain Garden 1

Rain Garden 2

In big cities where surfaces like concrete is prevalent, only 5% of rain water can infiltrate deep into the soil, depriving groundwater the opportunity of being recharged.  Areas like rain garden can change that and let as much as 25% of rain water go deep under.  Recharging groundwater  is very important for keeping a healthy water system and providing backup when drought hits.

Impervious Cover

A lovely catti Area

Catti plants are favorites for many people!  They come in all kinds of shapes, colors and forms, some of them sporting splendid and beautiful flowers.  They are very drought tolerant, needing only very little water once they are established.  Catti plants can fill out a full garden, or can be integrated as part of a bigger garden, just like what was being done here.  Here they fill out the long stripe along the driveway, offering something wonderful to see and enjoy when one comes home.

Catti Plant 1

Catti Plant 2

A magnet for bees  and birds

Plants with splendid blossom provide the food that bees, birds and other pollinators depend on.  As bees’ population has been on a decline,  it is even more important that we provide places where these small creatures can feed on and take a good break.  Compared with a lawn which does not provide any food or shelter, gardens with drought tolerant and native plants can become a paradise for bees and birds.

Here, this plant was planted in a row along the pathway.  When it blooms, it has this bright beautiful blossom that is hard to miss.  It is not just us who love them,  bees and birds crave them too!

Plant for Bee

Bee

Parking Strip not to be ignored

Compared with the main garden, quite often, parking strips are “after thoughts” since they are a bit small.  However, in quite some cases they still have sizable spaces, and are an important part of the front space.  They can also be filled with the drought tolerant plants and native plants, adding to the curb appeal, and food for bees and birds.

Parking Strip 1

Adding Mulch

After the garden is finished, an important step is to cover the whole surface with mulch.  There are several benefits of this.  First, they can significantly slow down water evaporation, keep soil moist longer so reduce water required for the plants.  They can also suppress the growth of weeds, further reducing water usage.  Third, organic mulch like this made from bark can disintegrate into the soil over time, adding to the organic matters in the soil, improving soil quality and water retention capability.  Aesthetically, they provide this backdrop for all the foliage and blossom, making the space look even more appealing.

A brand new garden

Tieing all the elements together…the new garden was born!  The space has dramatically changed.  Here was how it was like:

Old Yard

And the new garden:

A rain garden doing well in rain

Shortly after the garden was finished, several storms hit the area.  How did the garden do in the rain?

All came out to be good!  Water flew into the stream and pond as designed; plants enjoyed the rain and grew well.

Off the garden, water that came down from impervious surfaces like driveway pooled into runoff, which would flow out to a sewer and empty into the streams and rivers.  There were lots of pollutants in the runoff which would hurt the animals living in the waters, and pollute the broader water system.  That is why we should limit the areas with impervious cover and try to build more rain gardens, like the one shown here.

With a design of native and drought tolerant plants, the front space of this residence has been completely transformed.  Not only has it gone from utterly unattractive to beautiful, but also become  a wonderful place for bees, birds and butterflies.   As the plants are drought tolerant, only a little water will be needed after the plants are established.  Low water use, beautiful, great for the bees – water efficient gardens can add so much charm for your space!

Run for Water – My Journey to the New York Marathon

The New York Marathon finished last Sunday on Nov 5, 2017.  While several days have passed, the excitement of seeing so many runners, the cheering crowd, and crossing the finish line in one of the most iconic races in the world is still so fresh on the mind.  It has been such an extraordinary experience.

marathon

Determined to Run

Though I have run marathons a couple times before, I have never run a New York Marathon. In the last 2 years, I registered for the lottery, but never won.  This year, with the high hope that “3 is the charm”, I was very sure that I would be able to make it. But the email came yet again telling me otherwise.

Hugely disappointed, I started to consider the only option, which I never looked at before – fundraising for charity. When I scrolled down the long list of organizations, came upon “Water for People”, and read through its description, right then I knew – this is it, I will fundraise to run my New York Marathon, and I will fundraise for Water for People.

Water is something that I have been working on for the last 2 years.  Run for water – there is nothing more fitting to describe my mission for this marathon.

The Drought, and WaterEfficientGarden.com

From 2011-2016, California experienced an epic drought.  At its worst, the water content in California’s snowpack was only 5% the normal level.  Suddenly, everyone realized how valuable the water resource is, and how we must do everything possible to conserve water.

From “STATE WATER RESOURCES CONTROL BOARD RESOLUTION NO. 2015-0032”:

“Achieving a 25 percent reduction in use will require even greater conservation efforts across the state. In particular, many communities must dramatically reduce their outdoor water use;

“In many areas, 50 percent or more of daily water use is for lawns and outdoor landscaping. Outdoor water use is generally discretionary, and many irrigated landscapes will survive while receiving a decreased amount of water;”

To convert a lawn to a water efficient garden is the most effective way to conserve water.   For a lawn of 500 square feet, it can take as much as 4000 gallons of water in a month; if it is replaced with a water efficient garden, 30% to 80% of water can be conserved.  Suppose the original household water usage is 8000 gallons a month, and the garden saves 50% of water, the total water usage will reduce to 6000 gallons, a 25% saving versus the original.

It was during the drought, WaterEfficientGarden.com was created to help more people build water efficient gardens, conserving more water.

Water for People

According to its website, “Water For People is an international nonprofit humanitarian organization dedicated to creating reliable, safe drinking water resources, improved sanitation facilities, and hygiene education programs in the developing world; it currently operates in 10 countries: Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, India, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia & Peru. ”

“The organization’s unique business-oriented approach works to establish partnerships between local and national government institutions, nongovernment organizations, private enterprise, and entrepreneurs to enable local communities, districts, and municipalities to plan, build, finance, maintain, and operate their own safe water and sanitation services. Water For People puts long-lasting solutions and 100% coverage of a region with safe water access for everyone at the forefront of its strategy. It fosters innovative solutions to water and sanitation problems that are adaptable worldwide, and through monitoring and evaluation of its program impact for at least 10 years post-implementation, Water For People ensures that its work is sustained by local partners.”

Water for People is rated 4 star  by Charity Navigator, the highest of the ratings.

While the angles to work on the water issue are very different, we both try to address the same root – water.  At Water for People, it aims to create more clean water resources for people; at WaterEfficientGarden.com, we want to help people conserve more water with water efficient landscaping.

Water for People

It is Global

At the New York Marathon opening ceremony, runners from every country walked in a parade, a scene that strongly reminds you of the opening ceremony of Olympics.  Yes, running is truly global today.  In the more than 50000 finishers of the New York Marathon this year, 139 countries were represented.

Brazil

Water is a critical resource for all human.  The water crisis we may be facing tomorrow is equally global.    United Nations predicts that in 2050, the number of urban dwellers living with seasonal water shortages will reach 1.9 billion, or more than a quarter of the world’s population.  A global issue takes a global effort.  We will need efforts like those of Water for People, and the energy behind the global running phenomenon to tackle the challenges together.

At WaterEfficientGarden.com, we aim to make it easier for people to build water efficient gardens, so more water can be conserved.  As STATE WATER RESOURCES CONTROL BOARD RESOLUTION NO. 2015-0032 indicated: “Water conservation is the easiest, most efficient and most cost-effective way to quickly reduce water demand and extend supplies into the next year, providing flexibility for all California communities. ”  One of the easiest and effective ways is to replace a lawn with water efficient garden.  Not only will it conserve water, but it can provide a beautiful view for the house, and give food to pollinators.

Water Efficient Garden

To solve the water issue globally is not unlike a marathon – it takes effort from everyone, and over a long period of time.  Just like that in a marathon though, when everyone puts their mind, sweat and work into it, the finish line can be reached ultimately.  Run for water – and we will win at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall is a great time to install a water efficient garden

As the leaves on the trees have started to turn yellow, we know that fall is here.  Here in the Silicon Valley in California, quite some  lawns are also brown.  Though California’s historic drought already ended in spring, many people keep the habit of water conservation and continue to let the lawns go brown.  While this shows we have all been doing our part to conserve water which we can be proud of, the lawn, well, can look a little bit nicer……here comes the good news:  fall is a very good time to remove the lawn, plant water efficient plants and have a beautiful garden! Not only is the time great for plants, thanks to landscape conversion rebate programs such as the one offered by Santa Clara Water District, by doing it now, you may also receive some rebates.

Brown Lawn

Fall is one of the best times for planting

Fall is one of the best times in the year for planting. There are several reasons for this.

  • Temperature.  Very cold winter and very hot summer days can be harsh for young plants.  Fall offers the optimal temperature.
  • In time for the rainy season.  After plants are placed in soil, to establish and grow in the new place, they need the soil to be wet enough so the roots can stabilize and grow.  With California’s Mediterranean climate, the rainy season comes in winter and early spring.   When planted in fall, the plants have the right amount of time to settle in the new environment, and take the full advantage of rains when they come in winter.
  • Great for spring bloomers.  A lot of plants bloom in spring.  If they are planted in fall, by next spring some of them may grow enough to bloom. Blossom in spring – what a lovely view!
  • Good for pollinators.  Most of the plants in a water efficient garden can provide food for bees, butterflies and other pollinators, which are so important for us.  However, their population have been on a decline.  Bees need more plants that they can feed on.  By growing plants in fall, come spring time bees will have much more places to go to have their meal.
Many beautiful plants to choose from

There are a large collection of plants that are both water efficient and beautiful.  If the lawn is replaced with plants that are on the Qualifying Plant List of Santa Clara Water District Landscape Rebate Program, it is eligible to receive the rebate of $1 per square feet.  Browse some of these water efficient plants here.

Flower

Planted in fall, bloom in spring

These two gardens were planted in last fall, after just a winter, they all grew phenomenally and bloomed in spring this year.   Last winter was one of the wettest on record, which definitely helped.

This California native garden was installed last October.  How long did it take to bloom?  Less than half year!  And it lasted all the way through summer.

Fall
Oct
Spring
May
Flower in spring
May

This garden was installed in late last fall.  It also bloomed in early spring, just several months after the installation.

Garden in Dec
Dec
Flower in spring
May
Conserve water, enjoy the garden

A beautiful garden is not only something you can enjoy everyday, but will also go a long way to conserve water.  Although California’s drought already ended, as Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement, “This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner.  Conservation must remain a way of life.”

Outdoor watering for a lawn typically accounts for half or more of an household’s total water use; to convert a lawn to a water efficient garden, the water consumption for outdoor watering can be reduced by 30 to 60%, for total household 15 -40%.

You may receive rebate by removing the lawn and putting in water efficient plants now ($1 per square feet if all requirements are met).  Find out more about the Santa Clara Landscape Conversion Rebate Program here.

Water saving by water efficient garden Why wait?  Now is the great time to plan and build that lovely water efficient garden!  Find out more information at WaterEfficientGarden.com.

water efficient garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Floral Dream Blooms In Spring

After experiencing one of the worst droughts in the state’s history from water year 2011-2016, California went to another extreme since the start of water year 2017, receiving so much rains that it became one of the wettest for the time period so far.  We know generally plants like rain, but how about the drought tolerant plants and native plants that were planted in water efficient gardens last year?  Did they survive?  How do they do after all the rains?  Recently I went back and checked on those gardens, what I saw totally blew me away.  A floral dream is blooming!

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A floral dram came true

In the design phase of the garden, one plant chosen to be the anchor was Pride of Madeira (Echium), a drought tolerant plant. At 6-8 feet when fully grown, their big spikes are like flower towers in a garden.  With them in the picture, there is no chance a garden is plain or dull!  However, the Echium was just this small plant when the garden was installed.  It would take quite a while before it could grow to 6-8 feet and bloom, everyone reckoned.  “Let’s just wait, and it will come in some years.”

But, as it shows, you don’t need to wait that long!  In a mere 3 months of time, during which it rained heavily, it grew from one foot to 5 foot, with 4 huge spikes of flower tower in full bloom.  It is a spectacular view.  The owner took a trip before it bloomed.  When she returned and saw those spikes, “I was so surprised! It was gorgeous!”

Jan 2017

Echium

Apr 2017

Echium 2

Apart from Echium, other plants also grew and bloomed beautifully.

Jan 2017

Sage 1

Apr 2017

Sage 2

More flowers

blossom-2

blossom-1

Rain help make floral dreams come true

While most of the drought tolerant plants are tough and can thrive in new environments, without a doubt, the heavy rains in the last winter and spring helped them grow so well as they did.

One might ask, since these plants are drought tolerant, why are the rains still so important?  Yes, it is true they adapt to dry conditions and can survive in a low water environment; however, most of them would still like a certain amount of water to bloom, or bloom well.  If it was dry in the last season, they can still live, but likely not produce such splendid blossom.

For plants like Echium and Seaside Daisy (the purple flower above), which originate from areas of Mediterranean climate (Canary Island and California coast), they are accustomed to rains in winter and very little to no water in summer.  They will grow rapidly in the rainy season, then go dormant or grow slowly in the dry summer season.  It is amazing how we can observe the same wonder of nature in our garden.

A beautiful view, and conserving water

In addition to providing us with a beautiful view of all the blooming flowers, water efficient gardens like this can conserve a lot of water. Compared to a lawn, such a garden can save water by 15 to 40%.

Yes, with the heavy rains, California is out of the 5-year drought. However, with population growth and climate change, water the resource will just become scarcer relative to its demand.   Water conservation is a way of life in California.  By building a water efficient garden, one not only can live in such a way, but enjoy all the beautiful views from the many blossoms nature has to offer.

 

floral-dream-3

 

Water conservation: how did Californians do after mandate (Part III)

How did Californians do for water conservation since the last report of Oct. and Nov. 2016 ?  In addition to the normal question of “does mandate make a difference”, another big question that comes very specifically with this winter season is : do heavy rains make a difference?

From the numbers of the 3 months from 11/2016 to 1/2017,  Californians did a great job conserving water, despite of no mandate and the time period being one of the wettest ever recorded in California’s history.  Here are the numbers: In November, December and January, Californians reduced water usage by 18.3%, 20.6% and 20.5% vs. 2013.   They are very consistent at about 20% level, slightly increasing from that achieved in Sept and Oct at about 19%.

ca water conservation

Remarkable Achievement

The water conservation achievement in the 3 months of 2016 winter season is very remarkable.

First, it is the first time that Californians conserved more than they did in the same months of 2015.  After the statewide water reduction mandate ended in May 2016, water-savings had been less than those achieved in same months in 2015, until Dec 2016, when the water-saving turned in 13.2% higher. January was even better at 19.2%.

water conservation

Even more amazing is this was achieved in an unusually wet winter.   To start off, winter normally is a slow time for water conservation, witnessed by last year’s lower levels in all cold months.  To top it off, last winter was one of the wettest ever recorded.  From the Northern Sierra 8-Station Precipitation Index, in Nov, Dec and Jan, the rainfall volumes this year almost double those of the average, and more than double those of 2015 at the same points of time.  In the face of such heavy precipitation, water-savings not only did not decline, but increase slightly by 8% is truly significant.

ca precipitation

While many factors might contribute to this great level of water-saving, one possible reason might be that some of the habits or products people acquired during the drought period stayed, for example, taking shorter showers, using high efficiency washing machines, etc.  As a lot of lawns were converted into water efficient gardens, with rain sensors and smart controllers installed, landscape irrigation might have saved a sizable amount of water too.

CA Drought Situation

As of March 14, 2017, according to the US Drought Monitor, 77% of the state is out of drought, with only 23% in slight or moderate droughts.   This is a huge decline from last year when most of the state was in extreme or exceptional drought.

ca drought

Keep Conserving Water

Even though we have had a hugely wet year, we can not lose sight about water and assume we will always have a lot of it.  During the 5 years of drought, groundwater was heavily pumped, which was so depleted that it will take many years and a huge amount of water for it to recover. With climate change and a hotter environment, consumption for water will go up while the snow storage we have been relying on will shrink down, creating a severe demand and supply situation.  It is projected that the Sierra snowpack can drop by half by the end of the century if greenhouse emissions continue at current speed, which can be disastrous for the state’s water supply.

It is clear water conservation should be our way of life, whether we are in a drought or not. Limit outdoor watering, as about half of water consumed by Californians is used outdoors.  Replace the lawn with a water efficient garden – Calculate how much water you can save here.

A water efficient garden will not only save water, but be beautiful as well. They can be full of California native charm, or fulfill some gardening dreams you have had for a long time.  Whichever design you choose, the water efficient garden can help us conserve water, and deal with water shortage now and in the future.

water efficient garden

From Brown to California Native Charm

The brown lawn has been an eye sore to the owner of the house for quite a while.  He had been wanting to replace it with something more beautiful, but did not know where to start.   Since California’s drought five years ago, he put in his effort to conserve water, turning off the sprinklers. Sure enough, the lawn went brown.  He heard about Landscape Conversion Rebate Program, but did not know how it worked.

Water Efficient Garden Conversion

When he had a chance to talk to the designer, he was happy to find out everything would be taken care of from end-to-end.  Not only will they design a water efficient garden to replace the lawn, but also take care of the program application paperwork.  Hassle free – that was exactly the way he wanted.

Designing the Garden

The owner favored a natural and easy look for the garden; he also had some pebble stones from his last project, which he would like to repurpose for the new garden.

The designer decided to do a “California Native” garden.  The selection of plants showed this focus.

California Native Plants

California has many native plants, which are great for gardening.  Adapted to California’s dry and windy environment, they are hardy, strong and can thrive without any care.  There are a lot of benefits gardening with native plants:

  • Water efficient:  they do not need that much water; compared to a lawn, a garden with mostly native plants can save a significant amount of water;
  • Low maintenance: they can thrive on their own; no or little care is needed.
  • Attracting pollinators:  the bees, birds and butterflies sure like the plants that they know well for tens of thousands of years.  Those bees and birds need more food, and this will provide them.

These California Native plants are picked for this garden.

Douglas Iris:  beautiful blue iris, native to areas along west coast.

Native Plants for a Water Efficient Garden

Buckwheat: pretty small pink flowers will bloom most of the year, its nectar is the favorite of butterflies.

Monkey Flower: The full yellow blossom can be seen everywhere along the coast in spring and summer.  Some cultivars have bright red flowers, which are equally pretty.

California Poppy: the golden state flower.

CA Golden Poppy

Matilija Poppy

Native Plants for a Water Efficient Garden

The designer included the design into application materials and submitted it.  2 weeks later they received the Notice to Proceed.

Installing the Garden

All the materials were purchased.

IMG_5666_1

The brown grass was first removed.

Next was to create a miniature “nature”.  The curves for “mountains” were added, and a “river” was made with the cobble stones.

Then the piping was done, all the plants planted.  The whole area was covered with black mulch, which contrasts nicely with the river and the colors of the flowers.

WaterEfficientGarden

The California native plants: Douglas Iris, Golden Poppy, and Monkey Flower

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Irrigation Equipment Upgrade

Along with the lawn conversion approval, the garden also qualified for an upgrade with automatic irrigation controller and rain sensor.  Both were installed after the garden.

With the rain sensor, when it rains, it will detect and transfer the information to the controller, which will shut off the next watering scheduled.   This way the irrigation water can be saved.

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It rained right after this was installed.  It worked!

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Within a couple days, a brown lawn was successfully transformed to a beautiful water efficient garden.  The eye sore is gone, and the owner has something nice to enjoy and more to look forward to.

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