Too much, too hot
This year, the Santa Fe area has seen six months of drought and an epic storm delivering up to 3 inches of rain in a few hours in some sections of town. Is this the new normal? “The Southwestern part of the United States has been in persistent drought for the last 19 years and if it continues through this year it will be officially classified as a megadrought,” said Jonathan Overpeck, dean of theUniversity of Michigan School at Sustainability and recent keynote speaker at the 2018 Next GenerationWater Summit. As he clarified in his subsequent comments, this drought is not a normal drought. It is due as much to rising temperatures as to lack of precipitation.
The Santa Fe-area statistics for a 100-year rain event is a little over 2 inches in 60 minutes and 3 inches in one day. As the recent storm may indicate, there may be new rainfall records for our area.
Flooding is occurring not only here but around the globe. Last year’s flood in Houston was one for the record books. Already this year flash floods sent cars floating down Main Street in Ellicott City, Maryland; a deluge in Hawaii dumped four feet of rain in 24 hours; and major storms earlier in the year caused massive high tides in the Northeast. Additionally, flooding has affected Israel, Spain, Cambodia, Liberia, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Japan is installing a $2.6 billion flood tunnel under Tokyo.
The increased temperatures are speeding up evaporation and drying out the soils. With these new conditions, what are some of the prudent actions we can take? Choose heat-tolerant plants for gardens and landscapes. Consider that trees and plants preferring our traditional cooler mountain temperatures will be less likely to adapt to consistently warmer temperatures. With higher temperatures, mulch and soil amendments are even more important. The warmer and drier temperatures make our clay soils less able to absorb rains. Mulch helps retain the moisture we do get and keeps the intense sun off the topsoil to reduce evaporation. Additionally, it helps to reduce runoff during storms.
If capturing rainwater/stormwater onsite is an option or necessary, larger tanks and large berms, swales and basins must be integrated into your design. Additionally, when planning for capturing any of this water onsite, remember to plan appropriately for overflows. Regardless of the tank or retention pond size, these larger storms will overflow. Plan for it and don’t be surprised.
Record rainfall and temperature highs are likely to occur more often locally and around the globe. The rain events we are getting are more intense and less frequent. In other words, this year is what we are likely to expect but with even more intensity: the new normal. We need to prepare for this changing climate and protect our property, our neighbors, and our community for this new normal.
Doug Pushard, founder of the website www.HarvestH2o.com, has designed and installed residential rainwater systems for over a decade. He is a member of the Santa FeWater Conservation Committee, a lifetime member of the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association, and an EPA WaterSense Partner. He can be reached at doug@HarvestH2o.com.