1990 All Over Again?
Funny how much our focus shifts with our immediate circumstances. Who remembers 1988-1990? Those were some dry years here in California. Water rationing was in effect. Measures put in place by the EBMUD were thought to be positively draconian. There just wasn’t enough water to go around.
All the talk in the field was about drip irrigation and drought tolerant plantings. And legislation went on the books to enforce it. AB 325 (AB 1881’s predecessor) became law in 1990. For a while there, everyone was on board with water efficient landscape design. Classes were taken and plans were prepared in compliance with the new guidelines. Documentation packages were submitted and carefully reviewed by the local agencies charged with AB 325’s enforcement. There was even talk of requiring a license of irrigation designers.
But then a funny thing happened; it started to rain again.
With an abundance of water it was hard to maintain the level of heightened vigilance about water use that characterized landscape design in those years. And the explosion in growth of the drip irrigation industry exposed its problems to a broader audience. People learned that drip is fragile, and sometimes the first indication that the system isn’t working is dead plants. These traits didn’t compare favorably with more robust conventional irrigation systems.
And so the pendulum swung back.
Have we gotten it right yet? Was it appropriate to go back to conventional spray systems in situations where a drip system could have been used? In some instances, the answer may well be ‘yes’. We’ve learned a lot about the limitation of the technology. What has worked beautifully in agriculture for decades hasn’t translated to commercial landscapes quite so easily. The farmer’s field doesn’t suffer from ‘desire lines’ through the landscape. The farmers’ field is her livelihood. She is NOT going to let it fail. The commercial landscape is an amenity where the emphasis is on minimal maintenance cost. The diligence applied to these two landscapes couldn’t be more different.
But I would venture that we’ve forgotten a lot too. We’ve forgotten that droughts are a natural, regularly occurring phenomenon in California, and according to historical records (as written in tree rings pre-dating our move west) we haven’t seen nearly the worst of them. But, up to now, it’s been raining and there’s been more attention paid to rain gardens than water conservation. Leave it to an ‘old guy’ (me!) to give you another perspective. Take our recent lack of rainfall as a reminder about the natural inconsistency of the weather here. Whether it rains tomorrow, and rains for 3 weeks straight, is largely irrelevant. We will have droughts, they will be back, and we need to ALWAYS be thinking about water conservation, wet year or dry. It’s time to dust off those drip irrigation catalogs and xeriscape plant lists…but this time let’s keep them out even when the rain returns!
(funny footnote: as I was writing this I received an e-mail from Hunter touting their ‘New Point Source Drip Emitters’. What do you suppose they are anticipating?)
Mark Slichter, Principal