I try to stay optimistic, but it looks like we are heading into our second consecutive dry winter. While this brief, miraculous moment of October rain has refreshed native plants tuned to even the slightest hint of moisture and reduced our fire danger, our cumulative total of water remains less than an inch at the time. End of november.
Here in Southern California, rain is our most precious resource, recharging groundwater, springs and rivers, which are the backbone of the extremely diverse ecology we are lucky enough to call home. we. Heavy winter rains fill agricultural reservoirs and wells, and also recharge topsoil – all essential resources for local farmers and herders.
We live in a naturally abundant world which is also informed by the presence of water and its absence. Patterns of rain and dry weather over the millennia have shaped the evolution of native flora that flourish in salt marshes, along cliffs, and in the Front Range of Mountains, which rises just behind Carpinteria. Summer dormancy – which looks, to the uninitiated, like a lot of dead plants – sees silvery-gray or waxy foliage that prevents sweating and has incredibly deep roots. These are just a few of the many brilliant strategies our plant neighbors have developed to build their resilience during long periods of drought.
Many native birds, insects and animals have also ingeniously built their lives around natural rhythms of aquatic abundance. These strategies include timing of breeding and rearing children during the traditionally wetter winter months and caching food (which is also a primary water source) during lean times.
The winter rainy season was also traditionally a time for the Chumash, the original and ever-present, politically active stewards of this region’s biodiversity, to practice controlled burning. Shaded patterns of scorching and resting landscapes over generations have created dense and abundant wildlands through the adaptations and collaboration of the people, plants and animals that follow the fire. Our state is now on the brink of an almost constant and incredibly destructive conflagration thanks to decades of ill-informed fire suppression policies and harmful logging and ranching practices.
We are deeply fortunate to live in this beautiful place. But with this privilege comes responsibility: no matter where or how we live, each of us must own the actions available to us to conserve water and other resources in the face of increasing drought and climate change. . In the spirit of fairness and recognition of deep and growing economic inequalities, those of us who are materially more privileged also have the opportunity to do more to conserve resources.
There are many things we can do as individuals and as stewards of the places we call our home to conserve water. Some of these water conservation measures are now mandatory under recently declared guidelines on second stage drought conditions, such as ensuring that automatic irrigation systems are deployed during the cooler periods of the season. day and night; do not water the concrete and parking lots; manually turn off irrigation systems after a nourishing rain; and conserving water while doing household chores.
As an organic farmer and avid gardener, I would add to such water conservation measures by gardening and managing gorgeous drought-adapted native plants – which provide food and shelter for local wildlife – build healthy soils with compost and mulch to run off and store what rains winter allows, install gray water systems to recycle domestic water into healthy gardens for food and habitat, and support sustainable agricultural practices and regenerative, which preserve our precious resources.
In the state of California, agriculture uses about 40% of all available water, compared to 50% for environmental resources (i.e. urban use, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Here in the Valley of Carpinteria, agriculture, which includes commercial nurseries, uses about 47% of the available water (although this statistic is ten years old, I could not find a more contemporary and publicly accessible breakdown of the use The vast majority of all agriculture in Santa Barbara, 90%, is export-based to 34 different countries, and includes crops as greedy as berries, nursery products and more. I wonder if we are heading into a future where exporting such a large amount of our water becomes untenable.
Beyond our individual actions, it is the opportunity for a larger and more collective turn towards a light life of the earth. Whether we are prepared or not, it seems reasonable to conclude that we are entering a period of ever increasing global climate insecurity. In our local community, it could continue to look like dry winters and extreme fire danger. As a community, I hope we can begin to engage more deeply in conversations about preparedness and resilience, the equitable use of our shared resources, and the appropriate uses of water, our most precious resource.
Alena Steen is the former coordinator of Carpinteria Garden Park. She and her partner now own and operate a small, diverse flower and herb farm just behind town. You can find out more about nightheronfarm.org.