Well, we had a good start to our hyped-up "El Nino" season. December and January were both the kind of rainy I remember having 20 years ago - constant and soaking. We have had enough rain that three apartment buildings are falling off a cliff in Pacifica. There has been mud, and slightly flooded creeks. Plenty of snow for the skiers in the Sierra. This was all quite heartening.
Then I saw the weather forecast for the coming week - 70 degrees here for the Super Bowl! plus over a week of dry weather! - and shortly after read two articles in the Chronicle that concerned me. The first is about the snowpack - you can read that article here - and it states that while the snowpack levels are good now, it's still no guarantee that we'll have enough for drinking water this summer. (The snowpack provides most of the drinking water here in California. So rains are good and important for many reasons, but the snowpack is the true indicator of the coming year.)
The second article was about good old Punxsutawney Phil - not something I usually give much credence to, but if somehow Phil (or his handlers) has grown psychic powers, an early Spring doesn't bode well for our water supply.
I was so looking forward to gardening without huge water restrictions this summer. I don't think I can ever be unaware of our water deficiencies here, and will always be careful, but it would have been nice to run the drip system twice a day without worrying. Now I understand that "without worrying" is going to be a phrase that's phased out of our vocabulary, for good.
I mean, last summer sucked. We have neighbors with wells, and the wells dried up. (Washing your cars every week and watering your grass every day will do that, ahem.) We pay for flood insurance on this street; that's how high the water table here used to be. It was a condition of our mortgage. Now the high water table is gone. Imagine the irony, and our wincing, when we write that totally unnecessary $1700 check every year.
At the moment, our rain barrels are in good form. One is full to bursting, one is about half full, and one has about 12 inches of water at the bottom (that's the one I've been using to water containers that are on the front porch). This coming week, I'll have to use the barrels to water the vegetable garden, since we're going to be dry and it's going to get warm. When the barrels are empty, that's it - we'll have to use municipal water through the drip system.
I dunno, it's just all so discouraging. And it makes me wonder if it's worth it? Am I doing the right thing by growing in drought years? Sunset Magazine reminded me of the good news: we're more likely not to waste food that we've grown ourselves, and it takes far less water and energy to grow and eat from our backyards rather than buying food that is grown elsewhere and transported in (which is also a good argument for eating only seasonal foods). But Sunset also gave me good reminders for gardening in times of drought (and actually, any time):
1) Only grow what we willl actually eat (That means I still won't grow zucchini. :) It also means, don't waste anything that we've grown - preserve it or give it away.)
2) Take extra good care of the soil (No till, add compost, use cover crops wisely, use zero herbicides or pesticides.)
3) Mulch. And mulch some more. (Only, leave just a little bare ground for those ground-burrowing native bees, won't you?)
This all helps me feel much better about my gardening decisions. But you can bet I'll still be watching the weather reports, hoping for more rain.