I was teaching a class the other day, and the topic of rain came up. We
were, at that moment, looking out the window at a torrential downpour
splashing on cars and creating big puddles, so it wasn't too surprising that
water would be on everybody's mind. What was surprising to me, though, was
the comment someone made to the effect that this meant there was no more
drought. As if our water problems were solved by a few days of
precipitation! Hmm, if that were the case, we'd all be in great shape,
But the fact is - even a couple of inches of rainfall won't make much
difference in our water situation. Figure it this way - on average, we get
four and a quarter inches of rainfall each year. Between straightforward
evaporation and the amount of moisture that plants lose, we give up 82
inches in a year. So every year we're down 78 inches. An extra two inches
won't make up for that.
And, just in case that weren't drastic enough, think of poor Lake Mead - the
source of almost all our water for drinking, showering, car washing. (Let me
just point out that in other places, a drought means at least restricted car
washing, but I digress...) Lake Mead is down by something like 75 feet. That's
nearly the height of a seven story building. A couple of days of rain won't
do much to solve the problem. What will really make a difference will be a
walloping big amount of snowfall putting water into the Colorado river. And
not wasting what we have.
This might sound like I'm dismissing the rain, as if it didn't have any
benefit. That's not what I'm saying at all. For one thing, I like to think
that a heavy downpour scrubs away the dust and smog from the air. When we
get a sustained precipitation, our landscape plants get deep watering, which
is the best kind. A lot of people irrigate too often, but for an
insufficient length of time. The result is that a lot of the water just
evaporates before it does much good. So rain can substitute for a good, deep
A lot of our Mojave wildflowers respond wonderfully well to the occasional
big rainfall. Last week, I was out in Death Valley taking some company from
the East Coast out to see the desert. Since I was being a tourist myself, I
was driving relatively slowly. A friend who knows these things had already
told me - we were going out too early to see any of the fabled Mojave
wildflowers, so I had no hopes in that regard.
But as we were moving along, amazed at the rocks and the sand and the sky,
out the corner of my eye, I started to see some different color! I slowed
down some more and saw bright yellow desert sunflowers! These're about 7
inches tall, as opposed to garden sunflowers, which approach 6 feet, but
vivid, fluorescent yellow. We got out of the car, took some pictures, and
kept driving, but this time we're driving even slower. And indeed, next we
saw low growing white and green. So I stopped the car and started looking at
these little primroses and some other tiny white flowers. None of these
plants were bigger than 2 inches across and maybe that tall, so you can
imagine how small the flowers were, but there were a lot of them.
Well, as we were standing by the roadside taking pictures of these cute
little dickenses, a park ranger came up and started talking to us. In the
course of the conversation, she mentioned that the flowers were appearing
much earlier than usual. She said that they'd had some rain back in November
and the effect was to bring out more of the wildflowers, and earlier than in
other years. The flowers in Death Valley are adapted to a region with an
average yearly rainfall of an inch and a half. They don't just respond to a
little extra water; they explode with delight!
Maybe our rainfall will mean that the wildflowers in places like Red Rock
Canyon will also be spectacularly lovely this year. Not that I'm encouraging
everyone to go and be astounded by Nevada's natural beauty, but if you're
going to be out and about in some of our wild places, drive a little slower,
and prepare to be impressed.
Speaking of impressive, the Spring Bulb and Flower Show will be happening on
March 13 at the Garden Club Center at Lorenzi Park in Las Vegas. You can be
sure there'll be something you'll love, and maybe you have something you'd
like to enter. You can call the Master Gardener Help line for information.
For KNPR's Desert Bloom, with my umbrella ready, this is Dr. Angela
O'Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.
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