Driving by the American River and Folsom Lake provides one with visual evidence that we are currently experiencing one of the worst droughts on record in California’s history. According to Normitisu Onishi in a recent New York Times article, the lack of rain and snowfall this winter will affect the lives of 25 million people who will not be receiving water from the Sacramento water district this year, and have severe implications for our states multi-billion dollar agricultural industry.
This intense drought has forced local businesses and organizations like the Sacramento Tree Foundation to reevaluate the way it uses water in our state. They have started sharing their knowledge with local homeowners in the hopes that we can all make different choices when it comes to water use.
The Sacramento Tree Foundation (STF) has been dedicated to the growth and maintenance of a healthy urban forest since 1982. Their long term goal has always been to plant as many trees as possible in the Sacramento region, but along the way they have educated countless neighbors in tree care and the basics of urban forestry- maintaining populations of trees planted in efforts to improve air and soil quality.
A drought like this has all the makings of undoing their hard work- on January 14, the city adopted a “Stage 2 Water Shortage Contingency Plan”, mandating a 20 to 30% water consumption reduction per household and once-weekly watering for yards. However, the Sacramento Tree Foundation is doing everything possible to insure the survival of trees in the region through education and smart planting.
Earlier this month, Executive Director Ray Tretheway released information to the members and supporters of the Sacramento Tree Foundation outlining the importance of urban forestry and water conservation. He explains the importance of conserving our urban forest and using water wisely in the meantime.
“The region’s economy, environment and quality of life reap the benefits of over 7 million trees,” Tretheway says. “The vast majority of these trees have been planted by hand, not nature.” For an environment that was never accustomed to naturally supplying water for these 7 million trees, this limitation is especially prevalent in times of drought. But the STF has several helpful hints for keeping our trees healthy without wasting water. Tip #1? Add mulch.
“Mulch is good for soil and trees year round…[and] holds water in the soil,” Tretheway advises. “Mulch is nutrient rich, reinvigorating the health of the soil and trees.”
You can buy mulch at any gardening store, but one easy way to get a hold of cheap, high-quality mulch is through composting. The material that composting creates is called ‘humus’, which is filled with essential nutrients plants need to fight disease while retaining moisture. The US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is a major advocate of household composting for more reasons than growing healthy plants.
According to the EPA, the “composting process has been shown to absorb odors and treat semivolatile and volatile organic compounds, including heating fuels, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and explosives. The compost process degrades and, in some cases, completely eliminates wood and preservatives, pesticides, and both chlorinated and non chlorinated hydrocarbons in contaminated soil.”
By composting to support trees, we can also reduce several major carcinogens from our atmosphere that contribute to respiratory diseases and cancer.
Other tips Tretheway suggests are to eradicate weeds and unwanted plants that outcompete your tree for water, and to choose the right tree for planting.
“More shade is better than less,” he suggests, “Choose the largest tree that will still fit comfortably in the planting area when it is mature. Choose trees based on longevity, water use, and pest and disease resistance.”
Ultimately, with the current drought limiting our water supply, it is important take every measure into consideration before we decide to use this vital resource. For more information in regards to tree care, and the conservation of water during the drought, visit sactree.com, and consider volunteering.
“Trees are connected to economic prosperity and to the health and well-being of the region’s citizens.” Tretheway reminds us. “Today, this remarkable hand-planted urban forest is a defining feature of our region.”
In order to keep our trees alive during the drought, we all must take extra precautions to prevent dehydrating them while being conscious of the current lack of resources.