As California enters its third dry year, Governor Jerry Brown officially declared a drought emergency on January 17, 2014.   Recently, UC Berkeley paleoclimatologist B. Lynn Ingram noted that 2013 “could potentially be the driest water year in 500 years.”

With the absence of any significant rainfall and snowpack, we can expect the local, regional and state water authorities to implement voluntary and mandatory irrigation reductions as it relates to the ornamental landscapes of homeowner associations.  

Along with the potential water restrictions brought on by drought, there are adverse elements that are inherent to the local soils that also add to the challenge of maintaining healthy plant materials.  The water many communities use for irrigation, with its trace elements, slowly contributes to these conditions over time also.  Therefore, we rely on average rainfall to “leach” or help cleanse the soil on an annual basis to keep the adverse elements in check.  As we enter our third dry year, it is now common to see salinity levels rise to the point where they are beginning to cause noticeable damage to the landscape environment.  Without any significant rainfall this winter or spring, we can expect to see the turf and plant materials stressed more than they normally are in the summer months.  

Although landscapers should make every effort to keep water runoff at a minimum, it is important to understand that irrigation systems are not 100% efficient.  Even with today’s latest technological advancements in irrigation equipment, most new systems are only about 70% efficient.  As a result, we rely on some degree of water movement on the ground to keep the landscape vibrant.   The efficiency of every irrigation system will also begin to decline as the landscape matures.  As plants and trees mature, especially in small confines, it is virtually impossible to avoid some degree of runoff.  Then there are the varying topographies, soil variations, maturing root systems, exposures, microclimates and tree canopies that contribute to efficiency issues.  

As we look toward the potential for water restrictions throughout Southern California, all we can do is strive to maintain our irrigation systems in a functional manner and implement water budgets that stay in the confines of these new restrictions.  However, be prepared to tell your community to expect to see turf and plant material struggle to remain vibrant as long as this drought continues. 

Please contact Kevin O’Connell at kevin@oclm.com or (949) 589-2007 for more information on help we can help your community through these dry times.