Preparing for El Niño
Southern California is bracing for rain—lots of it—as the predicted El Niño weather system looms. After four years of relentless drought, some precipitation would be welcome, but too much at once could be disastrous. Civic leaders and water managers throughout the region have been scrambling to prepare for the deluge. They’ve also been exploring ways to capture some of that rainwater for future use.
At The Huntington, rainwater harvesting is a major component of the institution’s own preparations for El Niño. In fact, an underground water retention system was constructed in 2013 as part of the project that built the new Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center. Rainwater from the downspouts and drains in the new complex, along with runoff from the parking lot, will flow into this storage system, which has a capacity of approximately 27,000 cubic feet. (Excess quantities will flow into storm drains.) From the retention system, captured rainwater can percolate down through the soil to recharge the groundwater. Some of this retained water may also help replenish the underground aquifer that The Huntington taps into for all its irrigation needs.
Left: In a photo from 2013, superintendent Ken George of Matt Construction oversees work on a water retention system that will capture storm runoff to help recharge the groundwater. Right: Botanical staff member Daniel Goyette inspects a drainage canal and water detention basin designed to prevent flooding in the Chinese and Japanese gardens. Both gardens lie in the natural path of seasonal flows.
Elsewhere on the property, considerable work has been done in non-public areas to prevent flooding of two popular gardens. The Japanese and Chinese gardens lie in low areas of the grounds through which seasonal creeks historically ran, carrying runoff from the terrain as well as rainwater that flowed into the property from the north. To prevent flood damage to these landscapes, a system of berms, detention basins, and a drainage canal will collect and hold large amounts of runoff, safely retaining as much of it as possible on the property to soak into plant beds before channeling the excess into storms drains. This will allow the water to bypass the gardens that lie in its natural path and will prevent its release into neighboring streets at the southern perimeter of the property. Sandbags and long “snakes” of straw wattle will help control erosion on slopes, catch floating debris, and slow down or divert cascading water, thus keeping the drainage system clear and running efficiently. learn more
Ongoing Water Conservation Efforts at The Huntington
The Huntington has redesigned old irrigation systems to reduce waste, and we continue to retrofit all older systems with more efficient technology. Additional water-saving strategies, such as mulching around plant beds and watering more deeply but less often, have allowed us to reduce water use dramatically in many areas, including the Rose Garden.
Most of the irrigation water used on the property comes from wells that tap into the Raymond Basin aquifer. In conjunction with the other Raymond Basin groundwater users, The Huntington has reduced its groundwater rights by 30 percent over the last five years in an effort to help raise groundwater levels.
Highlighting Drought-Tolerant Plants
The use of drought-tolerant plants for landscaping around all new installations is a top priority. The Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center, for example, features six and a half acres of California natives and dry-climate plants replacing the lawn that surrounded the old entrance complex.
Of the 207 acres at The Huntington, about 18 acres historically have been covered with lawn. We are lowering that number by half. We began the process in 2013 by eliminating most of the lawn in the entrance area, and we are continuing this transition by eliminating lawns that are not used for public activities and access. However, lawns play an important role in any botanical garden or historic estate, so we are focusing on maintaining grassy areas that are of use for collections and for visitors.
Partnering With the Community
The Huntington is partnering with a number of civic and nonprofit entities to share information, resources, and water management expertise. This spring, for example, The Huntington and Pasadena Heritage cohosted a meeting that addressed a number of local concern, including protecting the health of trees during the drought.
Educating the Public
Through classes, workshops, lectures, school programs, and tours, The Huntington shares the expertise of knowledgeable individuals about how to garden sustainably, during the drought and beyond. A new lecture series called “The Southern California Gardener” is dedicated to gardening during the drought. We hope we’ll see you at one of the upcoming sessions.
If you have questions or concerns, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 626-405-2269.