The California Drought

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As of 1 November, the 12 "key reservoirs" in California held only 23% of their combined capacity. The average content as of that date is 56% of capacity.
At this time of year, the reservoirs are normally low, waiting for the spring and summer snow-melt to refill them. However, they currently hold less than half the amount of water that they would normally hold.
Precipitation in the first month of the current rain-year -- which started 1 October -- was below average at 16 weather stations. Two stations were above average. Yosemite had 3.21 inches in October, 60% above average; this should help the water supply for San Francisco. Death Valley had 1.08 inches in October, more than 15 times the average for the month.
--
David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean, see
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David E. Ross wrote:

i keep following the news and radars as the whole system and situation are interesting.
the few recent storms that have gone through have left the snow pack in the mountains above average and they've opens ski resorts in some places early. this is good and a welcome start to what may be a very interesting time.
i also notice any mentions of rain water capture projects that are being funded and put into place, but really the entire state should be out en mass putting in swales, seeps and sinks to capture rains as much as possible. sure beats sitting around and feeling like little can be done... some farmers are ahead of the game and have already changed their fields to act as ground water sinks if the El Nino comes through.
if you need the inspiration go looking for John Liu's movies about China's Loess Plateau and other movies about wide scale landscape restoration efforts around the world. they work if the people will get out and do it.
songbird
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On 11/19/2015 12:34 PM, songbird wrote [in part]:
    [snipped]

Where I live, the soils are so mineralized that any ground water (including captured rain) is unfit for agricultural use, let alone domestic use. We do have seeps and springs in the area. During a drought about 30 years ago, however, a study determined that mixing only one part of ground water with nine parts of California Water Project water would yield something that would be illegally tainted.
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David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean, see
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David E. Ross wrote: ...rainwater capture, swales, seeps, soaks, etc...

that sounds rather extreme, but i'd assume the native plants manage.
rainwater capture in barrels and lined ponds would be another option for such an extreme case. water right from the roof and other hard surfaces would avoid most of the problem.
songbird
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On 11/20/2015 9:00 AM, songbird wrote:

I recently had my roof's rain gutters cleaned. The gunk removed would likely be harmless to my garden but would definitely not be potable. There were several years of ash fallout from brush fires and Italian cypress needles from my neighbor's trees. I often hear squirrels running across my roof, so I would not be surprised if the gunk included squirrel droppings.
After a long period without rain, the public is advised to avoid Pacific beaches near storm drain outlets. For the same reason, the first rain on my roof -- even after having my gutters cleaned -- is not very good.
In the fall, I use large amounts of gypsum to make my clay soil more porous. I also mechanically aerate "lawn" areas, which are NOT grass but a drought-tolerant ground cover. All this is an attempt to capture rainfall to irrigate my garden.
In 2005 during an exceptionally heavy rain storm, the hill in my back yard failed. In repairing it, two concrete V-ditches were built. One runs across the top of the slope and feeds into another that runs down the middle to a catch box at the bottom. Additionally, drain lines were buried at four levels across the slope. I questioned the fact that three separate lines were to be installed to covey water from the slope to cutouts in the curb at the street in front of my house: one from the catch box and one each from the drain lines on the left side and right side of the slope. I was told the county (from which I needed a grading permit) would not approve allowing the water to flow into my garden. By the way, the damage is not insurable; the cost of repairing my hill amounted to four times what I paid to buy my house.
--
David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean, see
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On Friday, November 20, 2015 at 10:23:15 AM UTC-8, David E. Ross wrote:

What do you mean "not very good"? Are you saying that the first rains caught in rain barrels should NOT be saved for irrigating plants? Or?
HB
[...]
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On 11/24/2015 12:53 AM, Hypatia Nachshon wrote:

If there were recent brush fires dropping ash in your area, the first rains will be quite alkaline. Our southern California soils are generally too alkaline already. I am always using sulfur around many plants in my garden to make the soil more acid.
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David E. Ross
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David E. Ross wrote:

...

in my times of reading and wandering around the web and seeing what people are doing even in tough soil and arid climates with alkaline soils i keep an eye on:
https://www.google.com/maps/place/31%C2%B052%2719.1%22N+35%C2%B037%2753.4%22E/@31.871715,35.6313031,198m/data =!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x0?hl=en
which is a permaculture site in a pretty tough location. you can see that the surrounding area is mostly devoid of ground cover of any kind, goats are allowed to graze anything not protected. there is nothing there for holding what rains they do get, no organic matter or topsoil with any carbon content.
yet you can see they've managed to grow trees there and also veggies. drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting, some limited deliveries of water perhaps (i'm not sure exactly what they've done as i've never been there). composting toilets, recycling all organic wastes back into the gardens, i'm pretty sure they also keep chickens and do things with worms.
i have read some articles on the site and some mentions of having to amend because of the high alkalinity, but this will change over time.
another thing i've come across in my wandering and watching videos on restorative agriculture is having someone come from the other direction (high acidity) and over the years just by practicing soil conservation techniques and getting plants to grow and not overdoing the grazing the guy has been able to get the pH of his fields up from 5.0-5.5 to 6.0-6.5 without ever having to add lime.
my third item of interest is that even in arid climates where you might not think it would do much good is to put down surface mulch. eventually the organic materials will encourage the soil bacteria and fungi and that added activity will boost soil fertility and water infiltration and storage capacity.
these are three examples given so that others in tough climates and hard soil conditions can have some hope and know that others have been working on this and are seeing results.
songbird
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wrote:
<snip> > my third item of interest is that even in arid climates

Anything is possible, in the Netherlands they're trialling growing veggies in salty water: http://www.voanews.com/content/farming-with-salty-water-is-possible/2510044.html
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Hypatia Nachshon wrote: ...

many rain capture systems include some sort of arrangement for rejecting the first number of gallons of water so that contamination (from dust, bird droppings, etc.) is reduced. when using the water for a garden most of what is there isn't harmful anyways so i'd not worry. the concern is more geared towards those in areas of harmful dust fallout and those who are using the water for drinking, cooking or other house- hold uses.
songbird
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On 25/11/2015 2:38 AM, songbird wrote:

A friend of ours used to have a first flush diverter on his household rainwater tank (cistern in USian) but took it off after a year or so because he found it flushed away too much water and a short passing shower would result in his not getting any water into his tank (cistern). And dust or crap settles to the bottom of the tank in a very short time and is not a worry until it becomes time to desludge the tank. the tank (cistern) was to supply water for all his household use so the loss of any water was a problem.
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Fran Farmer wrote: ...

that must be a fun job!
in a place where there are distinct rainy seasons it would probably be worth letting the first rains go with the diverter on and then after things are rinsed off it could be turned off.
my sister had to have their cistern cleaned out as when it was installed the contractor put it down too deep and when they weren't around the top lip got filled over and then a lot of stuff got in so they had to get the gunk out and put on a taller lip and ... they're all set up now and have actual heat and running water. been a long road for her with the property and having enough $ to put up a house and have it habitable. now she finally has a place away from the city like she's always wanted.
i don't think they have rain water collection set up yet which will be a shame as it will be a higher likely rainfall year with El Nino. her partner is a gardener and also is learning how to forage and prepare native plants. still haven't met him yet (it's a long haul from here to there and i hate flying).
songbird
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On 11/25/2015 4:43 PM, Fran Farmer wrote:

I'd have to disagree a bit with the cistern vs. tank and the 'Usian' nature of either. Cistern is very much in long-term usage in the UK; it was common when plumbing became popular in old homes to have a cistern constructed in the uppermost reaches of the attic to provide a head of water. The local council-provided water was likely to be at low pressure and volume and keeping some in your own cistern could alleviate both problems. It is even true that the 'tank' of a flush toilet is referred to as a cistern in the UK. If you get right down to the meaning of the words themselves, a cistern is a container with no top while a tank is enclosed all around.
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On 30/11/2015 7:00 AM, John McGaw wrote:

I'm not in the UK. The only use of the word "cistern" here is the one that sits on top of the toilet.
Since I've never managed to identify any poster here who is from the UK, (other than a few strays who post once using gardenbanter) I don't bother to try to post so that Brits can understand what I am saying. I do try to make sure that the majority of posters (Americans) CAN understand. I won't bother in future.
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On 21/11/2015 5:23 AM, David E. Ross wrote:

Hmmmm. I doubt whether any of that would be of concern to Australian rural dwellers such as myself. We collect rain water from our roof and although I have no idea what a squrrel poop looks like, bird poop is not a problem and possum poo (not opossum) being from a marsupial is not seen as a problem. Our roof water is used in our house (unfiltered and untreated) for all the usual sorts of domestic activities.

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On 11/25/2015 4:38 PM, Fran Farmer wrote:

snip...
Even if there were concerns about the quality of collected water for consumption the cost of equipment needed to clean it up, at least in smallish quantities, is not extreme. There are pathogens in every sort of excreta and what is there and what it will do is pretty hit-and-miss for any individual. For the garden, I'd say that anything goes since what is coming from the roof is exactly what would have fallen on the garden.
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Is that to say the water isn't even boiled before drinking it?
bob prohaska
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On 26/11/2015 12:41 PM, User Bp wrote:

No. I've lived rurally for over 50 years of my life and the vast majority of people who live outside towns or villages collect rainwater off the roof for use in the house. I've never heard of anyone getting sick from it or installing any treatment system.
I have heard of local villages advising residents to boil water before use. Those village uses ground water and it's more suspect IME than rainwater.
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Fran Farmer wrote:

...

yeah, living a long ways from larger cities the air is likely to be much cleaner. i think i'd be ok sometimes but other times (after high winds and a lot of dust or times when they're spraying crops) i'd much prefer to drink well water.
in my continued studies i'm seeing more and more reports of septic systems not really doing much at all and so for the longer term a better method should be adopted. it's really a shame that so much good stuff for plants is being wasted.
songbird
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Is household wastewater really ok for plants? Cleaning agents are usually rather alkaline, laundry and auto dishwasher powders are downright caustic. Won't they make trouble over time?
I always thought the point of septic systems was to do as little as possible; control pathogens, certainly, but no more. The goal always seemed to be simplicity. It's little technical challenge to make sewage drinkable using aeration, settling and maybe partial reverse osmosis to get the TDS down. On a single-house scale the economics are daunting, but that seems like the greatest hurdle. The hardware appears to exist. Becaue water stores well intermittent power sources like wind and solar are quite usable to drive the process.
Thanks for reading,
bob prohaska
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