The unusually wet winter season in the Coachella Valley hasn’t solved all of our drought issues, as despite the abundance of rain, the hydrologic issues from California’s years-long drought will take years to recover. It’s due to this fact – and the recognition that California generally is perennially in a state of drought -- that the governor has determined that the stringent irrigation requirements implemented over the last few years will remain in place. In a sense, this is GREAT news, in that the beautiful drought tolerant aesthetic most Southern Californians are learning to appreciate in their landscaping is as relevant as ever.
The hard truth is that California will always be short of water. Many entities compete for our fickle supply of water: Agriculture and food production use 80% of our water; but this scale of water use in California is not sustainable. We are pumping groundwater at a faster rate than it can be replenished. As a result, groundwater levels in much of the state, including the once-vast reserves beneath the Central Valley, have been declining for nearly a century. Our recent wet winter will not reverse the long-term decline of water in California. The sobering news is that resolving our issue of drought doesn’t solve our problem of groundwater sustainability.
What can we do to be a part of the solution? For starters, the water efficient design and landscaping implemented to mitigate water shortages in Southern California are no less important in sustainability efforts. Choosing drought tolerant plants, which can be as beautiful as they are practical, is a wise decision for homeowners, HOAs, apartment complexes, recreation areas, etc. For a great list of drought tolerant plants, please see our past blogs about bulletproof plants: http://www.rgapd.com/blog/item/3-bulletproof-plants, http://www.rgapd.com/blog/item/10-bulletproof-plants-summer-2016-edition.
Another helpful resource is the Coachella Valley Water District’s website. They have many links and articles on water use restrictions, reporting water waste and water conservation. http://www.cvwd.org/31/Conservation
El Nino Isn’t the Answer to California’s Drought
What is El Nino? By definition, it is the warm portion of the warm/cool cycle of ocean water temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean. It generally lasts 9 to 12 months and occurs more regularly than its counterpart, La Nina (the cold cycle). Currently, El Nino is in progress and will peak around January, February and March. Many predict that this particular El Nino will be the strongest one in decades, or even the strongest one to date and produce storms and rainfall that are much more aggressive than normal. This sounds like great news for drought-stricken California, and to some degree, it is. The bad news is that drought-busting rainfall is not guaranteed and regardless of how strong it is this year, El Nino will not completely solve our drought woes.
Rainfall and snowpack deficits are so large in California, that near or above average rainfall caused by El Nino will keep our four-year strong drought intact, though less extreme. More modest storms are predicted this year that could produce soaking rain, rather than many storms with torrential rain and snow in the mountains. What does this mean for homeowners? There is likely to be less flooding and damaging wind, which is great for property owners. But since it would take several huge storms to build snow levels significant enough to fill reservoirs for lasting drought relief, for the community this means that the impact El Nino will have on our drought will be much more minimal than we’d like. The main issue is that one season of above-average rain won’t remove the effects of a four-year drought. California would need twice its normal rainfall to do that, which is highly unlikely.
The most important takeaway on El Nino’s effect on California, is that people still need to conserve water. Many people believe that an increase in rain is ending our drought and thus our decreasing our water conservation efforts. As El Nino is easing, but not ending our drought, please be vigilant about your water usage and report any water waste you see.
This is how a typical day goes: An owner gives us their ideas for how they’d like the landscaping to look on their property. RGA heads over to the site and implements it. We call it a day and all go have a beer. Ok, so that’s the fantasy version of how a day goes. Really, there’s a lot more to it. Rob Parker, our 26-year veteran Principal/Designer, walks us through a realistic day at RGA.
From the conception of a project to its end, every step along the way is a largely collaborative process. In the office, you may occasionally see someone getting in some rare, uninterrupted time to design. But mostly, it’s an interactive atmosphere and a team collaboration. When we work on a proposal, the person who writes it presents it to a co-worker who isn’t familiar with the project to make sure everything makes sense. They then give their feedback, helping tailor the proposal to its intended audience.
Some days start with early morning site visit work. This is where conceptions face reality and we have to determine if a space will work as it was imagined. From the imagining to the implementation, there are constant tweaks. When using natural materials, such as granite and marble, we make sure the whole stone was quarried from the same place, to maintain the same color. Our experts review and approve the location and size of the plants chosen for a property’s landscaping. Aside from our own team at RGA, we work together with a team of architects, owners, interior designers and engineers to facilitate the design of a property. A client advises on what materials and finishes they’d like and we provide approval for the site, or make suggestions based on what is easiest to maintain and what is priced best. Sometimes a client wants to use a material we don’t recommend. Ultimately, that choice is theirs, but we make sure that they are at least aware that they aren’t working with the highest quality or easily maintained materials.
In that same vein, a big part of any project is education. When we install desert landscaping for a public project, we need to make sure the contractors know how to maintain the property once it’s installed. Commercial clients need to know about long-term maintenance, so there needs to be education between the owners, maintenance crew, and us. Many times, property manager maintain differently than intended. As an example, over chlorinated pools can ruin decking. We ensure beforehand that owners know these things and aren’t surprised. We are meticulous about coordinating with the client/property manager/contractors/homeowners. It’s crucial that everyone be on the same page so miscommunications are reduced and that we prevent misinformation whenever we can.
A lot of research goes into landscape architecture. We don’t want to repeat the design and material for all of our jobs, so we are always researching to find other similar or better materials. This is especially true of plants. We test to see if they do well in the harsh desert climate. If the client wants something that hasn’t done well out here, we explain that to them and offer them something similar that does work out here.
Stay tuned to our website www.rga-pd.com and our Facebook page for photos and insights into landscape architecture in the Coachella Valley!