26 April 2011

Visualizing Drought and Draw

I keep a keen eye on my water use - not because of the cost, per se, but because it is a precious, limited resource in this world and especially in our Central Texas environment. Much of my decision-making regarding plants is impacted by whether or not the plant is native or adapted to drought and/or crazy fluxes in amounts of water over time.

I don't want to have to provide supplemental water, but I do. I think it's one of the greatest struggles that I have. I want to have a garden. I want to support plants and wildlife. And even though I don't have a lawn and use drought-tolerant plants, I still have to water. Or do I?

I suppose I could just let things be. Let them turn brown. Let those plants come back that will when the rain comes back. But then, there is that huge investment in design and cash that we've put into these plants, just to let them whither away and die?

John made a great point to me the other day about one of the consequences we have of living, almost literally, on the edge of the desert - in that narrow transition zone between the lush Gulf environment and the drier west. It's a border that is always in flux over time; the desert pushing forward some years (or centuries) and the prairies pushing back in others. Plants and natural ecosystems come and go, shift and change, but we don't want our gardens to do that. We want to control them, and we strive for managed change. It ain't easy, and maybe it's just wrong.

The visualization below shows our Austin area rainfall (in inches) versus our water use (in thousands of gallons) for March in 2009, 2010 and 2011. We are having a very dry year, and you can see that there is not much water coming in, but a lot of water moving out of the system, as I try to keep things alive. Sad.

What is a gardener to do? Does anyone else out there struggle with this issue? How do you feel when you turn on the faucet and let fly that water?


Anonymous said...

Last summer my wife and I turned half of our large east Austin backyard into a pocket prairie. We put down buffalo sod, seeded tall grasses and wildflowers, and planted yaupon and Texas redbuds. We haven't had to water at all this year and the flowers are blooming and the trees look good. The house's foundation is a different story.

Pam/Digging said...

I think any thoughtful person struggles with this issue. Perhaps as gardeners we feel really caught because we're in tune with nature and may be trying to grow plants that use less water. And yet in dry years like this one, if we don't water we will have a garden that looks, well, brown and crispy. Even natives will go dormant or perhaps die out without some rain or supplemental water.

So I water--as little as I can while still keeping my garden going, but I do water. You can always beat yourself up over any indulgence or comfort in your life. But there's a value in beauty and in plants that sustain wildlife too.

Amy said...

This year has definitely provided a lot of food for garden thought, with the several days of freezing temps that reminded us not to push our zone choices in plants and now this dry, dry spring. I don't remember ever even worrying about keeping plants alive in spring before, but when I see wilted fall asters and stunted perennials just waiting for some precipitation, it's hard not to help a plant out. Even if I feel guilty watering this early in the year. I'm moving in a couple of months to a new house with a blank slate of a yard, and this time I definitely want to install drip irrigation in the landscape, even in the native beds. So when we hit these years where the desert pushes forward, every drop of water used on the plants counts.

SomeLikeItHot said...

Very thoughtful post. It has been very hard to use so much water this year. I've put in rain collection that I've been unable to use yet, but hopefully in the near future.

I do my best to plant drought tolerant plants and reserve my watering for fruits and veggies.

Tim said...

I struggle with watering grass, but I let me grass die at my previous house and the amount of water it took to replace it dwarfed anything I put on it to keep it alive. And it's better than rocks until I get around to replacing it. So I just keep that in mind. Most of my plants get watered as a consequence of watering the grass (or are ridiculously drought tolerant).

Mamaholt said...

Yep, I worry about it even though we are completely grass free now. I water my beds twice a month unless something is new and then I give it up a little more. And I water my veggies almost every day, but that's just some small raised beds. Getting rid of all the grass means I water very, very little...comparatively, at least. Sigh. Why won't it just freaking rain?!

Anonymous said...

What a great post.

I am always thinking of my water use to the point that it's an obsession. I have rain tanks & barrels, water with washing machine water and recycle my bath & kitchen water.

However, I've learned my plants are tough and not all are known to be drought tolerant. In the spring/summer of 2006, I couldn't water once because my husband was ill. I watched from the back porch as the large ornamental garden I'd worked hard to cultivate turned brown. In 2007, it poured and I was too depressed to do anything with the garden and was thinking of selling the house. (Hubby died.)

In 2008, after two years of neglect, I tackled the garden and found the tons of plants I thought had died were still alive despite the neglect. Although four small established trees died, everything else lived under and along with millions of weeds.

It's a struggle for sure, and yes, I'm watering now, but I'm trying to do it sparingly. Laura

Bob said...

Living in the country and having a well, a person tends to be ever thinking about water use as you are responsible for getting your own water to the faucets. If any component breaks you are then with out water. Let me tell you, it sucks big time while you either figure it out or wait for the well man to come fix it.

It is the reason I invested in a 24,000 gallon rain water system. With your charts avearage 3000 gallon use, which is about right for us as well, it is still only 6 months water supply. Having no grass I water as little as possible but I just can't let my veggies or my ornamentals die.