A Personal Look at the California Drought
by Durae Hardy
California is in a drought. While I’ve lived my entire life here, and can’t remember a time when we were not instructed in school or at home on water-conservation, recent years of “severe, extreme, and exceptional drought” have brought the fragility of our state’s situation to everyone’s attention.
Looking around our county, lawns have been allowed to go brown and crisp in summer months, the hillsides’ abrupt transition from green to gold seems to come earlier and earlier, and the stark, exposed rocks of dry creeks and watersheds serve as constant reminders.
Sonoma’s climate is characterized by warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters. In a typical year, which we haven’t experienced since 2012, Sonoma County averages approximately 30 inches of rainfall during winter months. 2014 logged the hottest temperatures on record for the state (records date to the 1850s), and a scant 12 inches of rainfall in Bay Area counties.
You can’t be in the business of growing and not feel the sting of water scarcity. And when you stack year upon year of shortages in rain and snowfall, the situation begins to look bleak.
Ever resourceful, vegetable and grape growers in Sonoma have redoubled efforts to conserve our precious ground and surface water. “Dry farmed” produce, grown with little-to-no supplemental water, has gained new status. (As well it should - you haven’t lived until you’ve experienced the deep hues and intense flavors of a dry farmed heirloom tomato picked at the height of summer.)
At our own farm, methods to reduce water use and retain what water is applied have made a significant impact. Simple techniques, such as planting with water requirements in mind, mulching, creating natural wind blocks to prevent excessive evaporation, close interplanting to retain moisture, and the constant addition of organic matter add up to big water savings each summer.
While the issue is far from resolved, a shift in thinking toward conservation is a heartening step in the right direction. Especially when every drop matters.