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Living with Climate Change: Karen Tracy in Joshua Tree

What does Transition look like in a place with just 4" of rain a year?  This is the challenge faced by Transition Joshua Tree (population 8,000) in the Mojave desert.   Dr Karen Tracy from the group told us more:

"Even without climate change, the Mojave Desert looks dry, daunting, and even fearsome. Here in Joshua Tree, average rainfall per year measures 4” (100mm). In 2012 we received less than 3” (75mm). Transition Joshua Tree (TJT) members know how precious are both the dwindling water in our ancient aquifer and the occasional gift from the sky.

Current levels of water use in California burn up a sizzling 19% of electricity use, just to pump water around! Importing water from the State Water Project (SWP) can only be considered a temporary measure. Source of SWP is 500 miles (almost 1000km) away in the Sacramento Delta! Joshua Basin Water District recently installed a pipeline at great cost; the pipeline was completed just in time for the SWP to cut off all allocations due to drought. Governor Brown officially declared a state of emergency on January 17 due to the severity of the drought.

Drylands Permaculture (the only reasonable response to permanent or mega drought) uses all the tools in the toolbox to change lifestyles around water use. Gone are the days when turning off the tap while brushing one’s teeth will address shortages. Time for industrial-strength water decisions.

Diagram of Boomerang Swale from TJT Permaculture Workshop. Photo: Jill Giegerich.

Diagram of Boomerang Swale from TJT Permaculture Workshop. Photo: Jill Giegerich.

Participants in a Transition Joshua Tree permaculture workshop  February 23rd gained hands-on experience in water harvesting by  learning to build boomerang swales.

Participants in a Transition Joshua Tree permaculture workshop February 23rd gained hands-on experience in water harvesting by learning to build boomerang swales.

These introductory lectures are offered free of charge and are always well attended.

These introductory lectures are offered free of charge and are always well attended.

Five members of TJT now have Permaculture Design Certificates (PDC). We are putting our education to work, hosting lectures and workshops for the community. Lectures and workshops encourage community members to incorporate permaculture ideas into their lifestyles. Examples of Drylands Permaculture being tested by Transition Joshua Tree members include:

  • Rainwater harvesting in the form of earthworks or rooftop catchment.
  • Earthworks can mean swales or berms.
  • Rooftop rainwater catchment is becoming fashionable and even talked about at governing levels.
  • Using and re-using water as many times as possible before it leaves the land.
  • Well-designed graywater systems can move water from showers or washing machines to fruit or shade trees.

Harvesting the rivers of rainfall, which erode our mainly un-paved, sandy streets during rare storms, has recently been a topic of discussion at Joshua Basin Water District. This is a much-needed step in the right direction. Intercepting rainwater before it reaches big gullies and dry lakebeds, only to evaporate, may mean long-term survival here is possible. That is a very big mandate.

The orange bucket, filled with water, wicks to the root ball. Trees are also watered by ‘junk-mail swales’;. endless pieces of useless mail get buried and saturated rather than returned to the recycler).

The orange bucket, filled with water, wicks to the root ball. Trees are also watered by ‘junk-mail swales’;. endless pieces of useless mail get buried and saturated rather than returned to the recycler).

TJT still has heavy lifting ahead to push though regulatory changes that will legalize household graywater systems. Channels to dialogue with the Water District are open. Our progressive and very active Water Team and Permaculture Design Team set the achievement bar high for water use standards.

Adding to our careful use of diminishing water resources, we must also consider summers that are warmer than ever before, wildlife driven into our gardens, starved by declining habitat and howling 50mph (80kph) winds several times per year.

Before “climate change” we used to see the occasional day above 109F° (43C°) Now we spend most of July and August there. Humidity can drop to single digits. We liberally drape 80% shade cloth over porches and gardens.

Longer, hotter summers and the politics of water in the desert fuel much of the fiery enthusiasm that is Transition Joshua Tree. We can see how to make this work. We’ve earned our designation as Transition US’ 96th Transition Town.

Rooftop rainwater harvesting 
gets more and more attention locally. Sequoia Smith installing rooftop rainwater catchment system.  One TJT member captured 6,495 gallons of water during the 10 rain events of 2013.

Rooftop rainwater harvesting 
gets more and more attention locally. Sequoia Smith installing rooftop rainwater catchment system. One TJT member captured 6,495 gallons of water during the 10 rain events of 2013.

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