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California Drought, Dry Conditions Causing Concern for Farms and Agriculture

Much of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley regions are seeing abnormally dry or drought-like weather so far in winter 2021.

Current Steering Weather Hits Slowest Speed in 1,000 Years

An enormous ocean current that flows between continents in a worldwide circuit that can take centuries to complete is slowing down, scientists say. And climate change may be partly to blame.

New research finds that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC — a major ocean system that ferries water and heat between the equator and the poles — is at its weakest point in more than a thousand years.

Sierra Snowpack Has Major Drop Over the Past Decade

Sierra snowpack is so vital to California as it provides one third of the state’s water supply and it seems more and more lately we are seeing this dwindle. You can see from 2002 to 2011 60% of the time the Sierra snowpack was 100% or better, a pretty good trend.

Feds Start 2021 with Light Water Supply for Valley Farmers

Valley farmers had low expectations heading into the spring. Federal water authorities likely met them, to say the least.

Tuesday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced its first water allocations for farmers and water users along the Central Valley Project.

Light snowpack is, once again, the culprit, Federal officials said.

“Although we had a couple of precipitation-packed storms in January and early February, we are still well below normal for precipitation and snowfall this year,” said Bureau region director Ernest Conant. “We will monitor the hydrology as the water year progresses and continue to look for opportunities for operational flexibility.”

Helix Water District-Demonstration Landscape-WaterSmart

Helix Water District Demonstration Landscape Blossoms

The plants are thriving at Helix Water District’s demonstration landscape just eight months after the project was completed. The WaterSmart plants at the District’s administration office in La Mesa beautify the neighorhood while inspiring people to install sustainable, WaterSmart landscaping.

“Everything is growing in beautifully,” said Helix Water District General Manager Carlos Lugo. “We started with smaller plants to reduce costs and planned for growth. We’re happy to share this resource with our customers and community.”

Demonstration landscape includes water-wise gardens

The demonstration landscape includes three unique water-wise gardens on the streets around the building, including a Mediterranean garden on University Avenue, a desert landscape on Lee Avenue and a California native landscape along the building’s main entrance on Quince Street. Each garden started with smaller plants of varying colors, flowers and textures.

Helix Water District-Landscape-WaterSmart-Lee Ave

Desert landscape on Lee Avenue at Helix Water District in La Mesa. Photo: Helix Water District

“The grasses in our native garden are filling in the mulched areas, creating a soft meadow-like appearance,” said Lugo. “We are also seeing the canopies of the Palo Verde trees expanding, and underneath, the succulents and agaves are blanketing the hillside, filling the landscape with color and texture.”

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Grasses create a meadow-like appearance in some of the Helix Water District demonstration landscape gardens. Photo: Helix Water District

Plants provide wildlife habitat

The plants in all three of the gardens are adapted to San Diego’s climate and need half to a fifth of the water that a traditional lawn needs. In addition to requiring less water, WaterSmart landscapes also require less maintenance and provide habitat for local wildlife like honeybees, birds and butterflies.

In each garden, plant markers provide the name of each plant and a QR code, which when scanned with a smartphone, provide each plant’s name, sun and water needs, mature size and photo.

Customers can also use the district’s interactive webpage to make a list of their favorite plants and download each garden’s design plan. Information on efficient irrigation and rebate programs is also available.

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Native, water-wise plants thrive on Quince Street in one of the Helix Water District gardens. Photo: Helix Water District

The project was completed in June 2020 and partially funded through a grant from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Helix Water District provides water treatment and distribution for 277,000 people in the cities of El Cajon, La Mesa and Lemon Grove, the community of Spring Valley and areas of Lakeside – east of downtown San Diego. Helix is also a founding member of The Water Conservation Garden, a nearly six-acre water-wise demonstration garden in El Cajon.

Near Coasts, Rising Seas Could Also Push Up Long-Buried Toxic Contamination

Marquita Price grew up spending lots of time at her grandmother’s one-story lavender house in Deep East Oakland. It’s a place she’s always considered home, and where her grandmother still lives. So Price, an urban planner, was upset to learn about a lesser-known aspect of climate change fueled by sea level rise: it could cause the groundwater beneath this formerly-industrial community to rise, and wreak slow-motion havoc in the process.

How Wetlands are Linked to Our Climate

Although wetlands cover less than 4% of the Earth’s surface, 40% of all animal species live or reproduce in them. One-third of all organic matter on our planet is stored in places like the gigantic Pantanal wetland in western Brazil, the Sudd floodplain in southern Sudan or the Wasjugan Marsh in western Siberia.

What Are These Atmospheric Rivers that Bring Heavy Rain and Snow to California?

An atmospheric river — a plume of moisture that has been likened to a river in the sky — has brought heavy precipitation to the Central Coast. Now it will sag southward and bring rain and mountain snow to Southern California on Thursday night into Friday morning, the National Weather Service said.

Compare your soil to these diagrams to determine your landscaping's soil composition. You can then adjust amendments to reach the optimum mix. Illustration: SDCWA Jar Soil Test

Improve Your Landscaping Soil With a Soil Test

One of the first steps in your landscape makeover project involves preparing the soil to allow efficient use of irrigation. San Diego County soil quality needs a lot of help. The area is defined by impermeable soils with poor infiltration areas. Water doesn’t flow through the soil to replenish the groundwater, because it is made primarily of clay which is too dense.

In impermeable soils, irrigation doesn’t soak evenly into the ground, or flow through living soil and plants in a healthy way. No matter where you do your landscaping, you need to put in some work to improve your soil structure as much as possible. Irrigation will be more efficient and more cost-effective, and your landscape plants will receive the nutrients and water they need to flourish.

Check for particle size

Before you can build better soil, you need to figure out what type of soil you are working with. The three basic types of soil are:

  • Clay: Soil made up of the smallest particles
  • Silt: Soil made up of a mixture of particle sizes
  • Sand: Soil made up of the largest particles

In general, sandy soil drains faster than clay soil, because there is more space among the larger sized particles. Soil structure also influences soil quality. Lifeless, compacted sandy soil will not absorb water, while healthy clay soil will be more sponge-like, holding and releasing water when needed.

Learn your soil type using the jar test

Some tests can be done onsite to figure out what kind of soil you have. Others require lab analysis. Certain conditions require specialized tests, such as soil used for food production or soil receiving a lot of stormwater.

For most landscaping projects, you can test your home landscaping soil yourself. Watch the video, then follow these directions for a “Jar Test.” This is a fun science project to do with kids.

  1. Use a one-quart size glass container.
  2. Add one cup of soil from the garden. You can select one area or take samples from several areas and blend them together.
  3. Add three cups of distilled water.
  4. Close the jar and shake it until all the soil solids are suspended in water.
  5. Put the jar on a shelf and wait 24 hours.
  6. If the container is still cloudy, wait another 24 hours.
  7. After 48 hours, the soil layers should be settled on the bottom.
  8. Measure the layers in proportion to each other, with the total adding up to 100 percent.
  9. Sand will be on the bottom, silt in the middle, and clay on top.

Refer to the graphic to determine your soil type, based on the proportions of sand, silt, and clay.

Compare your soil to these diagrams to determine your landscaping's soil composition. You can then adjust amendments to reach the optimum mix. Illustration: SDCWA Jar Soil Test

Compare your soil to these diagrams to determine your landscaping’s soil composition. You can then adjust amendments to reach the optimum mix. Illustration:  San Diego County Water Authority

Which jar does your home sample look most like? You will be able to work with your soil type to improve its condition, providing the best possible foundation for your landscaping plants and the most efficient irrigation.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Something was Killing Baby Salmon. Scientists Traced it to a Food-Web Mystery

The biologists working in a fish hatchery near Shasta Dam grew increasingly concerned last year when newly hatched salmon fry began to act strangely — swimming around and around, in tight, corkscrewing motions, before spiraling to their deaths at the bottom of the tanks.

Certain runs of chinook salmon in California are imperiled; the hatcheries and the fry raised there are the federal government’s last-ditch effort to sustain these ecologically and economically vital fish populations.