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Treebeard's Stumper
18 October 2002

Water Stress

We've had recent autumn weather swings from 105° baking heat to cold drizzle this week. But make no mistake, it's been an extremely dry year since last Christmas, and the ground is still parched. Much of the country has had record drought (and wildfire) this year. Now look at the hills. Native oaks and chaparral are still green, and many plants are even ripening seeds and fruit. We survive with dams and aqueducts. How can our native plants survive for nine months with almost no rain when our garden plants wilt every hot afternoon even with watering?

I use a coffee can for my rain gauge, and I use the local Santa Ynez River swimming holes as my ground water guage. Here are two photos of our favorite DMS Hike Club swimming hole two years ago (left) and this year (right), both in September. Use the bumpy ledge on that triangular rock to get your bearings. We managed to find another spring-fed swimming hole for Hike Club this year.

The swimming holes at our river dropped as much this year as they did during the 6+ year extended drought a decade ago. The river dried out so quickly this year that the already full Lake Cachuma reservoir is still in good shape. No one is talking publicly about a water problem except the Forest Service fire crews.

It's been another remarkable year. We had good rain until Christmas, but then the tap went dry. By my reckoning, this is the fourth driest spring ever documented. Not a record, but still serious drought. This rainfall data is from my SB Rainfall Data page, updated with this year's rainfall data from the National Weather Service. The NWS index page is not up to date, but you can access monthly data in the form "<http://www.nwsla.noaa.gov/climate/sba.f6_mmyy.html>" where you type mm = month (01-12) and yy = year (99-02). See my Rain or Shine (5 Jan 2001) stumper and my Santa Barbara Weather (etc.) page for more local weather data and links.

Month:OctNovDecJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepTotal
2001-020.613.982.121.500.470.450.130.100.050.030.080.249.76
Average0.501.702.943.834.203.051.280.300.090.030.060.2518.25

Like the Lorax, I'll speak for the trees in this stumper. If the river dropped that much in a single dry year, then the trees and shrubs with their roots in the ground must also be in bad shape. Despite water stress, the native plants are mostly green, and some are even producing seeds and fruit. How do they do it?

Answer


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Copyright © 2002 by Marc Kummel / mkummel@rain.org