Why would anyone want to spend a Saturday learning about “Watering Wisely” during the third rainiest February on record? It seems lately that when it isn’t raining, it’s snowing. We’ve got lots of snow in the mountains, promising an ample supply of drinking water and water to cool streams and rivers for the fall pink salmon run. Why worry about saving water?
If you have just moved here, you may be thinking we all must sprout mold and mushrooms during the rainy winters. Even if this year feels uncomfortably moist, our area can experience droughty winters, and many summers can seem painfully dry. Endless days without rain can shrivel plants, turn evergreen branches brown, and spin the needle on the water meter to the tune of hundreds of dollars every month.
Forty gardeners knew that the rainy season won’t last forever, maybe not even into the summer in our temperate marine climate. They attended the last session of the Natural Yard Care series at King County’s Brightwater Center in Woodinville to learn about water conservation and managing stormwater. King County and the Snohomish Conservation District (SCD) partnered on this series to help people get a jump start on a healthy, water-wise yard.
On February 25, SCD’s Community Conservation Tech Cameron Coronado helped people learn how to make landscaping water smart, rain or shine. He started out by illustrating the outcomes of watering unwisely.
“We’ve all seen a sprinkler watering pavement,” he pointed out. “Maybe we don’t water enough, making our lawns and plants grow shallow roots and look constantly thirsty. We might be watering too much, or at the wrong time, causing diseases to rot our garden plants. We let the soil around our plants get hard and unwilling to let water soak in. That increases runoff, especially if it rains hard or if we water too much.”
Across the country, an estimated 9 billion gallons of water are used daily for lawns and gardens.
Cameron provided a wealth of information and resources for people to water wisely and protect waterways. He recommended refreshing compost and mulch annually. Soil amendments help to build healthy roots that take up water, prevent evaporation, and keep soil soft and moist, and ready to soak in water.
Cameron explained how the same practices that reduce water use and keep our plants lush during the summer can spare our salmon and waterways in the winter.
During the rainy season,our landscapes can be a major pollution source for streams, creeks, rivers, and Puget Sound. Fertilizer runoff causes algae blooms, pesticides can harm wildlife, and excess stormwater draining over roadways can carry grease, oil, and heavy metals into the waterways. Heavy rains can wash pet waste – chock full of bacteria and nutrients- from yards, streets and parks into waterways.
Cameron walked the audience through the benefits of compost and mulch, rain barrels, cisterns, and rain gardens during the rainy season, when we need to slow down and clean stormwater runoff. He described the anatomy of a rain garden and how to manage rain barrels and cisterns.
“Stormwater management used to be ‘pave it, pipe it, pollute it’,” he said. “Now we’re trying to slow it, spread it, and soak it in.”
King County promotes natural yard care, and partners with the City of Seattle on the RainWise rebate program to help eligible property owners control stormwater. The SCD offers a Sound Homes program, including assistance for property owners to install rain gardens.
Cameron Coronado, like everyone who works to protect our waters, is passionate about clean water. A native of Walla Walla in eastern Washington, his world changed after earning a degree in environmental science and collecting data for salmon recovery projects. “I watched the salmon returns decrease every year,” he noted. “And I knew I wanted to be involved in doing something about it.”
As a renter, Cameron is making a difference at home. He coordinated with his landlord to install compost bins and recycle food waste for raised bed gardening. “Our waste has really gone down because we’re composting,” he says.
Cameron also says he “does little things every day that count.” That includes washing full loads of clothes on cold water, cutting down on electricity use, and riding his bike to work when he can.
“I carry that baggy every time I run with my dog,” said Cameron. “And we pick it up in the yard.”
Beverly Jobes, a local resident, says, “Cameron’s dedication really shines, and he is so engaging and open to questions from people.”
Beverly, a 41-year resident of Woodinville, echoes the need to manage water wisely. She has seen rain come and go on her 1-acre property that she says is, “finally in the right place.”
“I’ve worked on it for years,” she told us. “Now it’s got the right plants, and they look healthy year round. But I can always learn more, and I’d like to use less water during the summer.”
Watering Wisely attendees not only enjoyed an informative, no cost training session, they also had the opportunity to purchase rain barrels at a discount, and take home free GroCo compost made with Loop® biosolids.
People were especially enthusiastic about the compost. “This is the most sustainable thing we can do with our waste,” said one shovel-wielding attendee. “And my plants grow like Jack’s beanstalk with it.”
Beverly Jobes appreciated the free Natural Yard Care series at Brightwater. “I’m a King County resident,” she said, “but I live out here, right by Snohomish County. It was nice to have an opportunity near my home to take advantage of what’s happening in both counties.”
Kristin Covey, King County’s program coordinator, told the audience that the series has been so popular for the last two years that Brightwater is already looking at scheduling for 2018.
“In the meantime, make sure you watch for our spring and fall dahlia workshops,” she said. “You get to learn from a wonderful person and award winning dahlia grower, and we usually have free flower samples!”
If you are interested in upcoming events at the Brightwater Center, including treatment plant tours, visit the events page.
For a view into how urban runoff can affect our salmon runs, and how natural yard care and green stormwater infrastructure can help, watch this video from Nature Conservancy and Washington State University.