Last week’s rainstorms brought wonderful wetness to our severely drought-parched region. Because such downpours have become so rare, a review of some opportunities and cautions related to rain may be in order.
Local water agencies offer free or discounted irrigation controllers capable of sensing the weather at your location and adjusting your programmed irrigation schedule.
Last week, my online irrigation service texted me to say it would skip watering because rain was expected. If you do not yet have such a "smart" irrigation controller, call the number listed on your water bill and ask if they offer a discount.
If you have a regular irrigation controller, now is a good time to check the battery. Dead batteries can cause those systems to default to factory settings, watering too frequently, even when it is raining.
Swings, sandboxes, obstacle courses and other backyard reuses of tires pose dangers following rains. They collect and trap water, providing a breeding habitat for mosquitos that spread viruses like West Nile.
Shade from the tire’s curve prevents rapid evaporation and its black rubber heats the water, making it even more attractive to mosquitoes. Puncturing tire walls for drainage is difficult and dangerous, so covering tires to prevent water collection is essential.
Capturing rainwater and reusing barrels benefit both your garden and the environment, but combining the two can be problematic. Reused barrels often do not have proper screening to prevent mosquito breeding.
If you plan to buy a homemade rain barrel on Craigslist or another classified ads website, be sure the openings are protected. Cary Svoboda, who heads Ventura County's vector control program, recommends a 1/16-inch mesh screen to keep out mosquitoes.
Commercially made rain barrels usually have tight mesh screens or a solid top and a side hose fitting for insertion into a downspout. Models offered at home improvement and garden stores, such as Green Thumb, generally cost around $100.
Stormwater runoff carries dirt, animal waste, vehicle oils and toxic chemicals like fertilizers into local streams, lakes, rivers and bays.
You can reduce runoff by redirecting rain downspouts to shallow vegetated areas. This slows and spreads the rainwater, allowing it to infiltrate grounds onsite.
You can also replace concrete and asphalt with gapped paving materials. For driveways, remove a strip down the middle and fill it with gravel. This also allows water to soak into the ground for future use.
Local water agencies use this strategy with projects like the United Water Conservation District’s Freeman Diversion and the Casitas Municipal Water District’s water-spreading grounds operation north of Ojai. Pervious paving material at the Ventura County Government Center captures, treats and infiltrates stormwater runoff from a 39-acre parking lot.
Visitors from wet climates make fun of how slow locals drive in the rain. “Haven’t you people ever seen this wet stuff fall from the sky before?!” they ask. Actually, local drivers are being smart. When rain is rare, oil and other slippery substances build up on the pavement. During the first rains of the season, these substances come loose, making driving conditions dangerous. Driving slowly is an important caution.
You can avoid slick roads by keeping the roads free of oil in the first place. If your vehicle leaks oil, get it fixed immediately. If you wash your car at home, do it on a dirt surface, so the soapy, dirty water does not run off into the street.
Avoid using “spray-on, rinse-off” engine and wheel cleaners. Park off street on street sweeping days, which are usually the day after trash pick-up.
We need the rain and need to manage it wisely to protect ourselves and our environment.
Further information: vcstormwater.org, cleanwatershed.org
David Goldstein is an environmental resource analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency. He can be reached at 805-658-4312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.