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Monday, February 15, 2016

Where water is scarce

We came home Saturday night from a week away from the Massachusetts winter, visiting Austin, Texas and Las Vegas, Nevada (Sunday morning the thermometer read -5 degrees, a reminder of why we left). Both cities have climates very different from Massachusetts’. It was nice to get away from the snow, and it was also a good lesson in what kind of gardening is feasible in areas with less rainfall.

    Austin’s climate is classified as humid subtropical, with 228 average sunny days per year and 33 inches of annual precipitation, less than the national average and a lot less than my area’s 45 inches. 

Water-sipping live oaks line a street in the SoCo section of Austin

During our four-day February visit, the weather was lovely, sunny and in the sixties. The plants that caught my eye as most striking and emblematic were agaves.

A giant agave, right, next to a prickly pear
 Huge ones grew in many front yards, where admirable residents were planting appropriate, water-efficient natives.

Tanks store rain for watering Zilker Botanical Garden
 I visited the Zilker Botanical Garden, where an impressive water harvesting system collects rainfall to irrigate the garden.

     Las Vegas, of course, has a hot desert climate with 4 inches of rain per year, and it’s almost always sunny. During our visit we enjoyed daytime temperatures in the sixties and seventies. 

     At the Botanical Garden at the Springs Preserve, I saw what kind of plantings would be climate-appropriate, including a collection of Mojave Desert cacti and succulent plants. 

The nearby Nevada State Museum featured exhibits on how the construction of the Hoover Dam supplied the city’s water needs. Despite strenuous conservation efforts far in advance of what we see in the East, Las Vegas couldn’t exist without water from Lake Mead.

    This visit to the arid zone reminded me to appreciate Massachusetts’ relatively plentiful water supply. We can learn a lot about water harvesting and conservation from places like Austin and Las Vegas that have been forced to get good at it. Nonetheless, we start with a lot more water to work with. When May comes, I’ll be glad of that.

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