by Connie Oswald Stofko
As of last week, Western New York is under a drought warning. Residents are asked to conserve water.
A warning is the second of four levels of state drought advisories: watch, warning, emergency and disaster, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
While the Southern Tier got some rain the weekend of July 30 and some scattered areas of Western New York may have gotten a bit of rain since then, it hasn’t been enough. The region continues to experience significant drought conditions with extremely low stream flows and reduced groundwater levels.
“The declaration is based on a long-term precipitation deficit and significantly reduced water availability across the region,” said Jomo A. Miller of the Office of Media Relations at the DEC yesterday. “Additional precipitation will be necessary to elevate us out of the drought warning status.”
There are no statewide mandatory water use restrictions in place under a drought warning, but citizens are strongly encouraged to voluntarily conserve water. Local public water suppliers may impose water use restrictions depending upon local needs and conditions.
“We do encourage the public to do their part to conserve water by taking some fairly simple steps,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “Minor changes in everyday practices can go a long way in helping to prevent any increased drought levels.”
Conserve water in your garden
One suggestion the DEC offers on conserving water is to water lawns and gardens on alternate mornings instead of every day. Less frequent watering will develop grass with deeper roots.
We’ve talked previously about the benefits of watering deeply and how to do it.
Watering by hand is more efficient than using a sprinkler. You want to get water on the roots of the plant, not the leaves.
One thing to keep in mind is that if the soil is too dry, water will run right off. You need to moisten the soil a bit for it to be able to accept more water.
With that in mind, here’s a slightly different take on watering, especially for hostas, from Mike Shadrack, president of the Western New York Hosta Society.
The Shadracks’ well is dry and they are watering with city water. They want to keep the plants alive but are mindful of the cost. So when watering, Mike Shadrack would attach the wand to the hose, drag it to the garden and douse each plant with a cool drink as he moved among the gardens.
Shadrack said he learned from a houseguest, a nursery owner from the Midwest, that he’s been doing it wrong for years.
Hostas are beautifully designed, Shadrack said, with a groove running down each leaf stalk. Water falling from above is concentrated by the veins in the leaf and water flows down the groove to the ground right above the crown.
But if the rain (or watering) is heavy, the water can’t be accommodated in that groove. Too much water runs across the surface of the garden before some of it can sink towards the root system.
His houseguest took the hose from Shadrack and showed him a different way to water. The guest walked slowly up the pathway, spraying everything quickly.
“The wand constantly moved back and forth and as we walked,” Shadrack said. The guest turned and, in the same way, watered the plants on the other side of the path.
“The temptation, I was told, was to linger too long with the hose,” Shadrack said. “Keep moving along fairly quickly. By watering all the ground, including the spaces between the plants, the soil is better able to accept and absorb the water being offered.”
At the end of the path, they turned around and, more slowly, went over the same ground and the same plants again from a different angle. His guest explained that the initial pass had dampened the dry ground so that it was better able to absorb the second shower.
“The water seemed to penetrate much easier,” Shadrack said. “There was little or no runoff.”
Plants to pamper and plants to skip
We also discussed watering your lawn, or more specifically, not watering your lawn. If you have just put in a new lawn, you have to water it. But if your lawn is established, it will be fine without watering. The dry grass doesn’t look pretty, but it isn’t dead; it’s dormant. I’ve seen neighbors who are tired of yellow and brown lawns and have started to water. But if you can put up with a yellow lawn, don’t bother.
Newer plants, including shrubs and trees, need special attention with watering. A tree in front of my house, planted by the town, was started to get yellow leaves in June. I watered it deeply several times and it was doing better. I slacked off and the leaves are turning yellow again. A town tree a couple blocks away isn’t faring as well. Its leaves are brown and dry.
Here are more tips from the DEC on conserving water:
- Use mulch around shrubs and garden plants to save soil moisture. Apply organic mulches four inches deep to keep plant roots cool, prevent soil crusting, minimize evaporation and reduce weed growth. Here’s more on mulching from our previous article.
- Water early in the morning because it minimizes evaporation. As we said previously, watering in the morning rather than in the evening also helps prevent plant disease.
- When using automatic lawn watering systems, override the system in wet weather or use a rain gauge to control when and how much water to use. A fixed watering schedule wastes water. Irrigate only when needed. It saves water and can actually improve your lawn’s health.
- Raise your lawn mower cutting height. Longer grass needs less water.
- Sweep sidewalks and steps rather than hosing them. Eliminating a weekly five-minute pavement hose-down could save between 625 and 2,500 gallons of water per year depending on the flow rate.
- Use a pool cover. It will reduce water loss due to normal evaporation.
- Fix dripping and leaking faucets and toilets. A faucet leaking 30 drops per minute wastes 54 gallons a month.
Get more water saving tips here.
The drought watch and warnings are triggered by the State Drought Index, which reflects precipitation levels, reservoir/lake levels, and stream flow and groundwater levels in the nine drought regions of the state. Each of these indicators is assigned a weighted value based on its significance to various uses in a region. See more detailed drought information.