Time to start planning for more dryness

So yes, Hawaii was nice. It’s nice to sleep with the doors and windows open in February. It was pleasant to eat bananas, avocados and mangoes right from the trees. I found it enjoyable to go snorkeling in the morning and then go to a different beach and teach the kids how to (with moderate success) boogie board without plowing one’s face into the ocean floor.

But as someone who enjoys plants, gardens and ecosystems, the big island of Hawaii is quite the unique place. It lays claim to 11 of the 13 climate zones in the world, with elevations ranging from sea level to its tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, which rises to 13,796 feet. This creates a climatic range from tropic to sub-Arctic on an island that stretches about 76 miles from coast to coast.

That’s pretty unbelievable.

And if that’s not enough, rainfall totals on the leeward (west) side of the island typically hover around 10 inches a year while totals on the windward (eastern) side can rise above 200 inches.

While I would love more moisture here in Southwest Colorado this spring, rainfall totals experienced in Hawaii would create clay soup in our valleys.

In stark contrast to the islands, Colorado is already under “exceptional” and “extreme” drought conditions in the eastern plains, and “moderate” to “severe” across the rest of the state, including the Four Corners. We need snow and rain, and we need a lot of it, desperately. Rain in the lower elevations is good, but what is really needed is more snow in the mountains. Our snowmelt (generally May through July) is what feeds our rivers, our creeks and our irrigation ditches. Think back only to 2012: a mild and relatively dry winter followed by a warm and dry summer created stress in the fields, the yards, the forests and naturalized areas. We also saw the Animas River at all-time low levels.

If 2013 follows the similar drought trend, we will most likely see watering restrictions, unplanted fields and a higher level of fire danger. Incorporated areas along the urban corridor (Pueblo to Fort Collins and Greeley) have already instituted watering restrictions, with many towns and cities not allowing any winter watering.

Now is the time to be proactive. For those of you with established landscapes, examine how you may make more efficient use of irrigation water. On average, 50 percent of the water consumed in and around a house is used outside of the house. Proper irrigation design, efficient irrigation systems (drip and low-volume emitters) and the correct use of water-wise plants, hardscapes and mulches can save thousands of gallons – per home – every year.

In my next article, I will discuss some techniques you can implement to conserve water as well as some plants used for xeriscaping. (The derivation of this word is a combination of “xeros,” which is Greek for dry, and “landscaping.”)

Or I may just continue to wax eloquently about Hawaii, and its $8-a-gallon milk and $5-a-gallon gasoline. There, does that make it better?

parmenterdm@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.