Sustainable Desert Planning

by Betty Harris

Put your teeth back in, your mind just went off on the wrong tangent! The Littleton Garden Gang spends a lot of time noticing what goes on around them and we do understand that this is a desert we’re living in. In fact many people who are NOT members of the group have been reminded that this is a desert by their water bill. A great deal of chatter on is going on about the monstrous increases in water rates this year. As a result of increased rates for those who supposedly use less water there will be more brown lawns than ever as lawns are not a necessity for humans.

What does this have to do with planning? Does the title above suggest that we should plan to make our desert sustainable as a desert, as in keeping the desert feel and look to our environment? Think Albuquerque or Santa Fe? Should we start to plan for our environment to look like that or should we plan so that it doesn’t? We must make a choice and act accordingly. My personal choice is for a more green world than a brown one. To me green is more restful which translates to calmer. Cities that keep or increase green areas are calmer places to live. So I suggest that we help our part of the earth by covering it with a green dress.

So how does one plan for less desert rather than more? There are areas of the world that are turning to desert and areas that are being reclaimed from the desert. The difference is planning. Jared Diamond wrote a book titled, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Choosing to fail is the same as failing to plan for success and letting things happen rather than making them happen.

Making this more local to our personal society points to problems around town that have been designed almost with failure in mind. Those garden gang members have been noticing after they took the Cool Gardening class that there are some faulty landscape designs that look attractive but over the long haul will not be sustainable. That will leave our greenbelts and medians around town turning to desert because of their designs. Here is the case in point.

Most of us understand that water runs down hill. After tonight’s rain one would have to be unconscious not to have noticed masses of water running downhill from our roofs, our lawns, our streets. So if water runs downhill and we know that, why are median strips on roadways designed to make water run OFF them as if we live in a rainy climate? Driving back from one member’s house on Monday I was once again noticing trees that have been planted above the ground level as if they would get waterlogged if it rained. That might happen in some climates but there are few areas in this desert where that would be a result of a decent rain.

If we began designing our plans or landscapes to maintain or keep the water that fell on it we would have lower water bills, more plants that survive and a greener surroundings that are easier to sustain. But we choose to fail by planting trees and landscape plants on medians or green ways or lawns so that that “pesky” water runs off rather than soaks in. Planning for low water environments or deserts needs is to focus on keeping the water that hits the ground long enough for it to soak in, which requires less irrigation.

Planning to prevent desertification requires that we think differently. It requires that we create shallow basins with the trees or plants set down below the ground level inside the basin but with the base of the tree on a slight mound so it won’t rot should we ever have weeks of rain. Using this approach is sometimes called Rain Gardening or planning to hold the water that hits the soil rather than making it run off as if the water itself is a problem rather than a resource to be treasured.

Personally I keep wondering how long it will be before cities will not be able to provide enough water to maintain medians and landscape areas around town. What would happen if we plan ahead and choose to succeed by designing landscapes that hold what water we get, planting landscapes that need less water and making the most of the resource of which we have little enough – water.

The water law changed this year allowing homeowners to collect water in 2 barrels of 55 gals each. Who has calculated how long that would last? Who has planned to sustain this desert as it is with its green dress? Who is planning to turn it to dirt and sand? Isn’t it time for us to choose success as we think of it and keep this place as green as possible and as cool as possible by growing more plants and trees and less grass. With less grass we’ll have lower water bills. Perhaps now is the time for more people to take the Cool Gardening class and jump start their brains to thinking about sustainable living in this desert of ours. Contact Betty Harris at 720.560.3806 if you want to sign up for the class and the Littleton Garden Gang. Check out our recently set up Facebook page.



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