It’s been raining, it’s been pouring, so the old way of watering is OK again, right?
“No,” said Lisa Novick, a La Cañada Flintridge resident who is the Theodore Payne Foundation’s director of outreach and a passionate conservation advocate. “No, no, no.”
The exceptional drought designation might have been lifted statewide for the first time since it initially appeared Jan. 28, 2014, but Novick maintains that Californians need to continue to conserve.
The State Water Resources Control Board last month extended water usage restrictions put in place in 2015. And Nina Jazmadarian, the general manager at Foothill Municipal Water District, said that despite all the recent rain, local aquifers remain the driest they’ve been on record.
“What we’re seeing from a watershed perspective is several dry years and then we’ll get a wet year in the middle,” Jazmadarian said. “That wet year has been our savior up until now, but that wet year also lulls people into a sense of complacency where they think things are going to get better again. But then we’re going to go into a drought period again.
“What we need to be doing during the wet years is conserving, using native plants and taking other steps. Whatever we conserve here in Southern California, we’re able to put in storage and able to use for those dry years.”
For do-it-yourself guidance on what steps you take at home to contribute to the state’s water-savings account — while also saving money, supporting the ecosystem and protecting aquifer health — watch a series of short web videos produced by Novick and Sue Hoskins, a veteran documentary filmmaker.
They’re available on the YouTube channel titled: “LIFE: Landscape Integrity Films and Education.” The collections of two-minute videos are divided by topic, including “California Native Garden,” “Why Native Plants Matter” and, most recently, “California Dry Shade Garden.”
The new videos from the latter series are being released weekly. They were filmed last spring at Flintridge Prep, sponsored by a $5,000 donation split by FMWD and its member agencies, Jazmadarian said.
Flintridge Prep landscaped the front of its campus with water-wise, drought-tolerant native plants in 2015, according to Kelsey Denham, assistant director of communications.
“Most of the lawn was replaced with native trees, bushes and grasses to better protect our heritage oak trees,” Denham wrote in an email. “Now, a dry-stream swale winds through the area, which helps to direct water to the plants that need it most. The resulting landscape reduces water usage, prevents flooding, preserves our beloved oaks and better supports animals such as hummingbirds and butterflies.”
For a visual, virtual tour of Prep’s landscaping — which has been recognized by the La Cañada Valley Beautiful and featured on the Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour — check out Novick’s videos, which offer basic instructions on how to construct a swale as well as which types of plants work well in this environment.
“It’s a beautiful array,” Novick says in the video titled “A Mix of Dry Shade Plants.”
“You have Emerald Carpet Manzanita — a groundcover type of manzanita; Howard McMinn — a shrub, elegant Coral Bells; Eve Case Coffeeberry, Oregon Grape …” Novick says. “This shows you how you can combine these types of plants for a beautiful overall effect with different leaf sizes and textures and flowers at different times of year. You can have beautiful, lush-looking evergreen plants in your yard at a fraction of the water of a traditional, water-thirsty wet shade yard.”
If the videos inspire viewers to follow Flintridge Prep’s lead — and Novick hopes they do — she said many of the featured plants are available at the Hahamongna Community Nursery, at the Theodore Payne Foundation Nursery in Sun Valley or, in some cases, at Armstrong Garden Centers.
“This is not an $80,000 expense,” said Novick of many at-home water saving tactics. “And what you do at home is the easiest way to be effective in water conservation and to be effective in ecosystem support.”
That larger issue, about the wider ecosystem, is important in a save-the-planet sort of way.
“What I imagine is in the future, people will say, ‘Wow, in 1980 there were all those birds and butterflies in the United States and now it’s 2050 and look at all the numbers that have gone extinct. What do we have left? Crows and pigeons and sparrows.’ We’re on the knife’s edge right now and people are not realizing it,” she said.
Following Flintridge Prep’s lead will help, said Novick, who wants viewers to differentiate between drought-tolerant plants imported from other parts of the world and native plants, which are naturally drought-tolerant and able to sustain wildlife.
“There’s a misunderstanding between drought-tolerant and native,” Hoskins said. “People planting drought-tolerant sometimes think that they’re providing for the birds and the bees, but in actuality, they’re not providing the edible leaf sources that the caterpillars need.”
“Because of a long co-evolutionary history,” Novick added, “insects and animals can’t just switch. A Monarch butterfly caterpillar cannot just start eating something other than milkweed; it’ll die. And all the baby birds, they need 150 caterpillars per baby bird to get them to adulthood.”
She said native plants will lead to 35 times more caterpillars than non-natives. They’ll also use less water — as much as 83% less, she said.
“Drought is always on the horizon and we’re planting these drought-tolerant non-native plants that do not support the ecosystem,” Novick said. “It just seems that we shouldn’t get complacent. We should do what we can to set the example for our kids; we should be doing what’s right and thinking about people who will follow us.”
People can help by planting native, of course, Novick and Hoskins said, but also by following them on social media, sharing their videos and spreading the word.