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Archives for June 15, 2014

Can Toledo do more about blight?


For some intrepid residents, the answer is a resounding yes

Landlord Bob Cready stands in front of his building on Adams Street in the Uptown neighborhood near downtown. Tenants now live where accountants once worked in the 19,000-square-foot building. You can’t put elbow grease into your property without the city sticking its nose in your business, he says.


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“You will do better in Toledo,” the old slogan goes.

Folks in blighted neighborhoods say, “You can do better, Toledo.”

Tongues wag. Toledo should have prevented the widespread urban decay. The city should pay residents to fix up their homes. Elected officials should partner with taxpayers to make a difference, a real difference. And be swift about it, or the city might as well hang “Sorry, We’re Closed” signs at Toledo’‍s city limits.

Even as blight crashes in on the community, pockets of populated areas bloom with the optimism of renovation and preservation.

Property owners, energetic and enthusiastic, are hammering out — and sawing, painting, polishing — a community comeback.


Tackling the issue

In her Old South End neighborhood, Lisa Oehmke, 42, plants flowers and ideas.

“This is a prototype,” she said, showing off improvements to a house she rescued at Walbridge Avenue and Courtland Avenue. She wants to stop the tear-down mentality. “Save the houses. Fix them up. Give them to veterans. Give them to the poor.”

Faced at times with a tangle of murky ownership and liens and back taxes, people can be quick to give up, but she’s staying put. Much work needs done.

She and other residents blast the city over what they call progress-stopping rules. Get with us or get out of our way.

Mother of five children, Mrs. Oehmke said she hires gang members to help with renovation and landscaping work, and in turn, she gives them job references. A bonus: Gang members keep an eye on the property they are bringing back from the brink of blight. See? Ms. Oehmke said. Community pride rubs off on young people. Just give them a chance to get involved. A place, a purpose.

On her wrist, a bracelet: Change the World.

Across town, 41-year-old Claudia Collins in 2000 purchased an 1866 home on Michigan Street near Elm Street where you could see the sky from the upper floor. She and her husband Mark, who works for CSX, have since made repairs on their owner-occupied home in the north end. “It is sad so many old homes get burned and torn down,” she said.

Local people seem to lack interest in investing in Toledo because blight is so pervasive, she said, adding community residents have lost faith in the city.

Yes, on days of desperation she wants to yank out every strand of hair on her head. There are times she wants to quit, pack up, leave. But she is as fiercely determined as she is outspoken.

“There is hope for Toledo. I think the city should give people more of a chance,” she said.


Common sense

Exactly, says Bob Cready, a landlord who lives and owns property in the Uptown neighborhood near downtown. “The city sends a task force to personally inspect buildings. It’s all about the city getting money through court costs and fines.”

Lisa Oehmke is fixing up this house at 404 Walbridge Ave. in the Old South End. She and others criticize the city over what they call progress-stopping rules.


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That, he said, is not the way to approach nuisance abatement. “And the city wonders why nothing gets done. We need someone with common sense to step in. We have a city with knee-jerk reaction. … ‘Let’s tear something down,’ ” he said.

You can’t put elbow grease into your property without the city sticking its nose in your business, he said. Stop-work notices get issued as property owners try to make things better, he said. “That’s the [expletive] you have to put up with.”

Informally, he calls his place the Bob Building, but the formal name is the Lifetime Building. Business in the building was shuttered; now, tenants live where accountants once worked in the 19,000-square-foot building.

He says he’s proud of the work he’s done in spite of the city. The city, on the other hand, says permits give authority for inspections that can save lives, such as by detecting faults in installation of a furnace.

Mr. Cready points with pride to the tree-lined area along Adams and 15th streets. He cuts grass regularly to improve the neighborhood’‍s curb appeal. And, he’s created an oasis of splendor near his building where he lives with two cats and two dogs.

Such a treasure — rain barrels, trumpet vines climbing up the side of a pergola, outdoor seating areas, pear and apple trees, a place to relax and to play — is like hope rising from ashes. Mr. Cready chuckles at his presumptuousness. “I built bleachers,” he said, a place where visitors, including his tenants, can watch area residents partake in games of Petanque, similar to bocce.

Exclamation points punctuate his words as he talks about changes that literally alter the atmosphere of a neighborhood. The entire city would benefit from a blitz on blight, he said.


A downsized city

Blight is nothing new to Toledo. It’s been a plague, spreading from neighborhood to neighborhood for years.

Issues of blight relate to what Chris Zervos calls the successful downsizing of Toledo. The city’‍s economy is still robust, he said, but the population has declined. It makes sense that Toledo now has too many structures, residential and otherwise, said Mr. Zervos, the city’s director of inspection.

Vacant homes can lower neighborhood property values, increase fire risk, and invite vandalism, crime, and other problems. A 2008 study released before the height of the housing crisis estimated that vacant properties cost Toledo taxpayers at least $3.6 million annually.

To critics who tsk-tsk demolition, Mr. Zervos has this to say: If the house was so valuable, someone would have purchased it.

In 2000, Claudia Collins purchased this home at 1116 Michigan St., where you could see the sky from the upper floor. She and her husband Mark have since made repairs on their owner-occupied home in the north end.


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Toledo, he said, is doing its best to repurpose buildings. However, the reality is, some structures are past their usefulness, such as houses lacking amenities sought by home buyers today: attached garages, bedrooms on the first floor. “Those homes no longer meet the needs of people looking for homes,” he said.

Unless the population is increasing, it is difficult to find a use for those structures.

Vacant, abandoned structures are demolished in partnership with the Lucas County Land Bank, he said. Demolition, one way to attack blight, thins out tight quarters that can cause complaints.

Complaint-wise, the numbers come in at about the same pace year after year and can be predictable seasonally, such as grumbles about tall grass.

Predictable, too: complaints because we’‍re human. “A lot of neighbors hate each other,” Mr. Zervos said matter of factly. Neighbors complain about fences, critters, barking dogs, etc. etc. etc. Consider: Houses thisclosetogether can trigger a too-close-for-comfort atmosphere rather than a tight-knit community.

With only so much room between houses, a ladder set up to allow a homeowner access to gutters might be an inch or two onto a neighbor’s property. Then the howling begins.

Blighted homes include structures built during Toledo’‍s population explosion from 1880 to 1920, when the number of residents soared from 80,000 to 220,000, Mr. Zervos said

Back in the heyday, when Toledo’‍s central city and its west and east sides were being built, houses — nestled side by side by side — were intended for workers, younger people with families. It was a pedestrian era. People walked to work. “That is why there are so many houses built around factories,” he said.

As houses get taken down, opportunities go up for neighbors who could purchase extra land for a garage or green space.

Age of homes and residents can add to the blight. As the saying goes: Old Mrs. Miller died and went to heaven but her home went to hell.

Neighbors might say that Old Mrs. Miller was a fine neighbor, a sweet lady, but then her heirs, who perhaps live out of state, abandon the house. Eventually, instead of a property owner’s problem, it becomes a city problem.


Easy to find

The city devotes a large amount of resources to the removal of blight, Mr. Zervos said.

That said, blight is easy to find.

Along Starr Avenue on Toledo’s east side, you wonder if Madam Rose foretold the closing of her Psychic Center … and not just the center, but business after business, building after building in that neighborhood.

Paul Sullivan, an architect who lives and works in Toledo’s Warehouse District, said he would like to see the city “save our wonderful neighborhoods and historical structures. Every effort needs to be put into renovating and saving as much as we can. You want to respect what the neighbors want. I think tearing down is an easy solution, an easy way out. It doesn’t really resolve the issue; it simply camouflages it.”

He lists issues: Absentee landlords, home ownership vs. rental, and the happy feel the city gets when it spends federal dollars.

Some structures, he said, are beyond saving, but the city needs to recognize that if Toledo wants to move forward, it has to save whole neighborhoods. That goal can be reached, he said, with a preservation ethos that starts with ways to reuse and renovate.

In Toledo, in spite of roadblocks and setbacks, residents celebrate as they see change happening. One window at a time, one roof at a time.

Drunks who stagger the streets are not the ones who will make changes, said Mrs. Collins from the front porch of her home. The city should invest in residents willing to improve neighborhoods, she said. Encourage, rather than discourage, property owners.

“It’s motivating,” she said. “Everybody needs that little push.”

And by working together to fight the blight … it could be possible after all. You will do better in Toledo.

Contact Janet Romaker at: or 419-724-6006.

Article source:

Story by Ian James / Photos by Richard Lui , The Desert Sun

The biggest reservoir in the United States is dropping 1 foot each week. Lake Mead’s rapidly sinking water level is set to reach an all-time low in July, driven down by a 14-year drought that scientists say is one of the most severe to hit the Colorado River in more than 1,200 years.

The water behind Hoover Dam supplies vast areas of farmland and about 25 million people in three states, and this critical reservoir stands just 40 percent full.

Droughts and even decades-long mega-droughts have long been part of the natural cycle of the Colorado River, but that ebb and flow is now occurring alongside global warming, which scientists say is influencing the weather and putting new pressures on water supplies that are already over-tapped and declining.

In many ways, climate change is starting to compound the problems of a water system in the Southwest that is fundamentally out of balance:

• The Colorado River would naturally flow through its delta to the Sea of Cortez. But so much water is taken from the river that it seldom reaches the sea, and federal officials say water use has begun to surpass the available supply, drawing down the river’s reservoirs.

• Beneath desert cities and towns, in places from Palm Desert to Borrego Springs, groundwater levels have been dropping as more water is pumped from wells than flows back into aquifers.

• Scientists aren’t sure to what degree climate change is influencing the natural cycle of droughts in the West, but they say it’s clear that hotter temperatures worsen droughts, meaning that future dry spells will become more intense, more frequent and longer-lasting. And the current drought is taking an economic toll on agriculture in California’s Central Valley, with UC Davis researchers estimating losses this year at $1.7 billion.

• Already, scientists say hotter temperatures across the West have led to less mountain snowpack and earlier melting of snow in the spring. More of the snow and rain that does fall is evaporating due to warmer temperatures, and that diminishes the flows of water into the Colorado River that sustain cities and farms across the Southwest.

The white band left on the rocky banks of Lake Mead by minerals in the receding water illustrates the vulnerability of people across the Southwest to the risks of a changing climate — risks for which the region appears largely unprepared.

“Here’s a reservoir that can hold two full years of the flow of the Colorado River, and it’s now down to less than one year’s worth of flow,” said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which supplies water for Las Vegas. “That’s the bank account for 25 million people from Santa Barbara to San Diego. It’s the bank account for the 2 million people I’m responsible for. It’s the bank account for all of central Arizona. With Lake Mead, a picture’s worth a thousand words. You look at that lake and you say: This is a serious issue and we better start taking some proactive measures before things go from bad to worse.”

The level of Lake Mead has been declining dramatically, and climate change is expected to put additional pressures on water supplies.
Richard Lui and Marilyn Chung/The Desert Sun

Climate change adds a new layer of complication for Entsminger and other water managers because they know hotter temperatures will mean less water, but they’re unsure how much less.

“That’s what climate change can mean for this basin, that you’re going to see not only less precipitation but precipitation that doesn’t get into the river and ultimately results in less water,” Entsminger said. “All of us are going to have to come together and, in my opinion, in the 21st century figure out how to live with less water.”

Some researchers say climate change in the Southwest is also essentially “water change” because the biggest, most difficult adjustments may be forced upon the region by worsening water scarcity.

Climate scientists have described the desert Southwest as a hotspot for climate change. Climate data show that much of the Southwest has been heating up more than other regions of the country, and scientists say the region’s dryness appears to be contributing because in wetter areas, some of the sun’s heat would be used up evaporating water vapor from the soil.

Scientists also have found that recent droughts are worsening dust storms. Hotter temperatures and more frequent droughts are projected to worsen smog and air pollution in the future, posing health risks, particularly for those who are most vulnerable — the elderly, those with health problems and the poor.

A Desert Sun analysis of national climate data from more than 30 weather stations across the Southwest, in places from Palm Springs to Tucson, found that the average number of days each year with temperatures hotter than 90 degrees increased more than 25 percent during the past 20 years as compared to the average in the decades before 1960 — a time frame often used by scientists in studying climate change.

Average monthly temperatures have climbed 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winters, average lows have risen 3 degrees, and average summer highs have become 1.3 degrees hotter.

Scientists have determined that the decade from 2001 to 2010 was hotter than all other decades in the Southwest since 1900. Heat waves have also increased in a region that is the hottest and driest in the nation.

And as temperatures have climbed, the numbers of big wildfires have also risen.

Scientists said in a 2013 report that it’s highly likely heat waves in the Southwest will increase in frequency, intensity and duration. The report was authored by a list of climate scientists from universities and other institutions such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The researchers also concluded it’s highly probable that droughts leading to diminished flows of the Colorado River will worsen and result in deficits of water unlike any seen before in recorded history.

The water level in Lake Mead today stands at an elevation of 1,085 feet above sea level, and in July it is set to sink below the all-time low of 1,081.8 feet, a record set in November 2010.

If the water level drops 31 feet beyond that, to 1,050 feet, the Southern Nevada Water Authority would no longer be able to pump water from one of the two intake pipes that supply Las Vegas. Anticipating that possibility, the water agency began several years ago building a third intake in the bottom of the lake. The 20-foot-wide tunnel is being drilled underneath the lake at a cost of $817 million, and is scheduled to be finished next year.

While the deeper intake will solve an immediate problem for Las Vegas, Entsminger said much more needs to be done to save water on a bigger scale across the region.

Devastating droughts have hit the Southwest before. Scientists have reconstructed stream flows in the region going back more than 1,200 years using tree rings, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says that research shows the Colorado River Basin is now in its fifth worst 14-year drought period in that time frame.

And as the drought persists, Entsminger acknowledges wondering about the unknowns.

“What if we’re seeing a compounding of a historic drought with now the effects of human-caused climate change? That’s what’s most worrisome for me, because that would mean we’re seeing something that even in the last 1,200 years we’ve never seen before,” he said. “If things could be this bad just with the natural cycle, and then humans are making it worse, what’s worse than a prolonged 50-year drought?”

The ruins of cliff dwellings and other archeological sites in parts of the Southwest show how indigenous societies such as the Ancestral Pueblo, Hohokam and Sinagua peoples once flourished and expanded, and then collapsed.

Those civilizations disappeared between the 13th and 15th centuries during periods of repeated mega-droughts that scientists have identified using tree rings and other methods. Analyzing the demise of those societies in the book “The West without Water,” UC Berkeley paleoclimatologist B. Lynn Ingram and environmental planner Frances Malamud-Roam write that “the greatest societal catastrophes occurred after populations expanded during years of plenty and were then struck by disastrous droughts — an unnerving parallel to modern times.”

The 20th century was a relatively wet period in the West compared with prior centuries. By planning the water system in a time of relative abundance, Ingram said, “we kind of built up our whole modern civilization based on an unrealistic expectation.”

The modern laws that govern allocations of water from the Colorado River also were laid out during much wetter times, starting with the 1922 Colorado River Compact. Those laws have since evolved, with various legal battles over water along the way.

In 2007, when the Colorado River was in an eighth year of drought, the federal government adopted new guidelines for releasing flows from Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Those rules specify that if the water level of Lake Mead is below 1,075 feet as of Jan. 1 in a given year, the Interior Secretary can declare a shortage condition, which would trigger cuts in water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada.

Water levels in Lake Mead are projected to rise later this year, boosted by flows released from Lake Powell after a year with normal snowpack. But that’s just one year in a larger drought, and the Bureau of Reclamation has estimated that by 2017, there will be a 50-50 chance of low water levels prompting the declaration of a shortage. Starting in 2018, the estimated likelihood of reaching that threshold — and cutbacks in water deliveries — rises to 60 percent.

California holds the most senior rights to water from the Colorado River, and given that first-priority position, Southern California would be the last in line to feel the pain of any cutbacks.

But scientists and water managers have increasingly promoted the idea of states working together to address water shortages, and some have said all parties along the river need to be engaged in discussions about how to use less water and keep looming shortages from harming economies.

Pressures on the Colorado River have been driven partly by the increasing populations of cities in the Southwest, which have grown faster than other parts of the country.

“Climate change interacts with and exacerbates the existing vulnerabilities of a given region,” said Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. “We’re already in a situation where we don’t have enough water to go around, and then climate change is coming along and climate change is exacerbating the problem that we have already created ourselves.”

Water supply and water use in the Colorado River Basin

As water becomes less reliable, she said, that increases the risks of new conflicts over water, whether between states or between cities and farming regions.

In many parts of the world, climate change is projected to make wet regions wetter and dry regions drier.

“The Southwest is generally expected to get somewhat less precipitation in the future, not drastically less, but somewhat,” said Kelly Redmond, a climatologist and deputy director of the Desert Research Institute’s Western Regional Climate Center in Reno.

Redmond explained that because temperatures are hotter, water evaporates more quickly from soils and reservoirs. “So, temperature alone has some consequences on drought, even if precipitation doesn’t change at all.”

One important aspect of climate change, he said, is that its effects are layered on top of a host of other environmental stresses, including urban sprawl and intense demands for water.

“In conjunction, it’s sort of a stress multiplier, of stresses that maybe we could normally get through, but because it’s there, it takes us over a threshold that we might not have crossed,” Redmond said.

Among other climatic changes, storm tracks have shifted over the western U.S. in recent decades, and more of the region’s precipitation has fallen as rain rather than snow.

“We’ve seen changes in river flow timing because of losses of snowpack in the western U.S., in California and the Rocky Mountains as snow disappears faster and faster because of higher temperatures,” said Peter Gleick, a water researcher and president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland. “Those are all examples of some of the impacts we thought we would see and are now seeing from climate change.”

Gleick said, however, that even without climate change, the region’s water system faces enormous stresses.

“We’re past the point of ‘peak water’ in the western U.S.,” he said. “We overdraft our groundwater, we take too much from our rivers and streams, and so, even without climate change, part of the answer is changing the way we manage the system, improving especially the efficiency of our water use.”

Along with the risks posed by growing water scarcity, Gleick said, changes in the timing of river flows also will be hard to manage because reservoirs and other infrastructure were designed for a different climate.

“Adding climate change on top of a system that’s already out of balance makes all of our problems more difficult,” Gleick said. “We have to realize that there are limits, especially in the dry Southwest. We can’t just pretend that we can grow our cities forever and somehow find new resources for them, new water for them. We have to change the way we do planning. We have to change the way we manage water. And if we don’t, changes are going to be forced on us.”

Some of the water that pours out of Lake Mead through Hoover Dam eventually makes its way to the Coachella Valley, flowing through the Coachella branch of the All-American Canal or through the Colorado River Aqueduct. The valley’s water agencies obtain some of that water by exchanging their allotments from the State Water Project for equivalent amounts from the Colorado River.

The water that flows in through the Coachella branch of the All-American Canal is used to irrigate crops such as grapes and peppers, and to water some of the valley’s 124 golf courses.

A portion of the imported water fills replenishment ponds in La Quinta and Palm Springs, where it sinks into the soil to replenish the underground aquifer. Despite those inflows, groundwater levels have been declining for decades in much of the Coachella Valley.

Climate change could add to that problem in the long term and make it more difficult for local water agencies to prevent declines in groundwater levels.

The Desert Water Agency, which provides water to Palm Springs and surrounding areas, is raising water rates and boosting spending on programs to encourage conservation, including cash incentives for lawn removal and free irrigation controllers. The water agency also has joined other Southern California water districts in supporting the state’s $25 billion plan to build water tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, saying the project would make water deliveries more reliable and guard against rising sea levels.

“If climate change teaches us anything, it is that the need to conserve water will not come and go with the condition of the snowpack in the Sierras from year to year,” said Craig Ewing, president of the DWA board. “As average temperatures rise and new uncertainty is raised about future sources of supply, climate change should cause everyone to pay even greater attention to creating a more robust storage and delivery system, and to reducing our use of water.”

The Coachella Valley has long had some of the lowest water rates in California, and some of the highest per-capita rates of water usage. For decades, subdivisions and resorts have been built around lush expanses of grass and artificial lakes. That is starting to change as more homeowners and new developments have adopted desert landscaping, and as more water agencies have adopted tiered rates that penalize heavy water users.

The Coachella Valley Water District has included a section on the potential impacts of climate change in its water management plan, which lays out a long-term strategy for preventing future declines in the aquifer. The document says in a chapter titled “Emerging Issues” that climate change could affect sources of imported water and could also increase demands for water by boosting evaporation. It notes there are no precise estimates of how global warming will affect river flows, but says “the aggregate change for the basin could be significant.”

Some argue that water districts and local governments need to be preparing for climate change with a greater sense of urgency.

Eric Corey Freed, a Palm Desert architect who leads the Coachella Valley branch of the U.S. Green Building Council, points to San Luis Obispo County as an example. After some wells began to go dry near the wine-growing areas of Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County responded with an ordinance last year establishing a moratorium on new groundwater pumping for farms or developments unless that pumping can be offset with reductions elsewhere.

“I think things are getting severe enough with the water supply that maybe it’s a good time to force people to have a little long-term thinking for a change,” Freed said. “What I’d like to see is, declare a state of emergency over water valley-wide and in doing so take control of our water system and find a way to better manage it — mandatory water budgets for everybody.”

Freed argued that efforts reminiscent of the mobilization of civilians during World War II are needed to address climate change and bring about changes in how water is used.

“In World War II, at a time of crisis, we asked everybody to make sacrifices and to do it in a long-term view in the name of victory. We rationed everything, precious materials, rubber, steel, aluminum,” Freed said. “And we did it all in the greater good, for the bigger picture, in the name of victory. That’s what we need to do again. We need to redefine victory, a Coachella Valley that will still be here in a hundred years.”

As levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continue to increase, ideas for combating climate change are being promoted and debated by activists, scientists, politicians and citizens. Proposals range from weaning the world from coal-fired power plants to stemming deforestation, expanding rooftop solar systems, and reinventing transportation systems.

At the same time, many experts and policymakers are emphasizing a need for adaptation. President Barack Obama has proposed a $1 billion fund to help communities prepare for the effects of climate change and to promote more resilient infrastructure.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration has promoted adaptation strategies in California that include studies of vulnerabilities as well as research into how agriculture can optimize crop yields in the face of decreasing water supplies. Brown said recently that “humanity is on a collision course with nature, and we’re just going to have to adapt to it in the best way we can.”

In the deserts of the Southwest, adaptation will likely involve learning to live with more extreme heat. Scientists predict in the newly released National Climate Assessment report that annual average temperatures in the Southwest could rise by 5.5-9.5 degrees by the end of the century if emissions of greenhouse gases continue to grow.

That would make the climate of cooler high-elevation deserts more like the region’s hottest low-elevation deserts.

Palm Springs, Indio and El Centro, among other places, could be scorched by average temperatures hotter than those seen today in Death Valley, which holds the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded: 134 degrees.

Some desert cities have already experienced dramatic warming. The Desert Sun’s analysis of climate data found that Palm Springs had average temperatures 3.4 degrees hotter during the past two decades as compared to the decades prior to 1960.

Phoenix saw its average temperatures rise 5 degrees, a change attributed in part to the urban “heat island” effect, in which asphalt and concrete capture heat during the day and then radiate heat at night, pushing up nighttime lows.

Rising temperatures will probably push energy costs higher as people rely more on air conditioning, and some predict that will force changes in how buildings and urban areas are designed. Freed said the costs of air conditioning for typical stucco-covered homes could start to seem absurd, and designs could change to use earthen berms around walls and desert landscaping on roofs.

“The buildings are going to have to change in very interesting ways to adapt,” Freed said, adding that he expects some golf courses to convert their fairways to other uses.

Hotter temperatures and growing water scarcity could also force other changes in sprawling desert cities, prompting planners to design more compact urban areas, said Kristina Hill, an associate professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning at UC Berkeley. It’s even possible, she predicted, that in areas without adequate water supplies, “some of those suburbs are literally going to go back to desert.”

While other researchers disagree and say they don’t expect ghost towns in the Southwest, many agree on several prescriptions for rethinking water use, including more recycling of wastewater, using gray-water systems for outdoor irrigation, and diversifying water supplies. Some suggest building more desalination plants to tap the Pacific Ocean.

New technologies could also help reduce the region’s water footprint. Hill pointed out that a solar thermal desalination plant is recycling contaminated agricultural runoff on a trial basis in the Central Valley. Those sorts of solar distillation plants, she said, could eventually help reduce the amounts of water needed for agriculture, which officials estimate uses at least 80 percent of California’s water supply.

Others propose a stronger focus on conservation and improved water efficiency. Researchers with the Pacific Institute, UC Santa Barbara and the Natural Resources Defense Council recently estimated that California could have access to more water than its cities use each year through changes including recycling wastewater, capturing rainwater, using better farm irrigation techniques, and improving the efficiency of water use in homes and industries.

Such alternatives would likely achieve much more than the construction of new water infrastructure, Gleick said. “There is enormous opportunity to do the things we want to do with less water, to grow food with less water, to meet our urban demands with less water, by improving efficiency.”

Other measures that could help ease water shortfalls include agreements between agencies to “bank” water in aquifers, or to temporarily transfer water to areas with the most pressing needs, said Gregg Garfin, a climatologist at the University of Arizona.

Becoming more resilient, Garfin said, entails making sure there are backup plans and investing to “get ahead of the game” as the climate changes. He said without adequate contingency planning, “we just increase the risk of something dire happening.”

Increasing collaboration among water districts can help address the region’s water deficit, said Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project. She pointed to a new $11 million conservation initiative, the Colorado River System Conservation Program, which would pay cities, industries and farmers to reduce their use of water from the river.

Money for the initiative is coming from the Bureau of Reclamation and four large water agencies that supply Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Southern California. The purpose is to keep more water in Lake Mead and Lake Powell to try to head off potential water cutbacks.

“The challenge is really getting much smarter about how we use and manage and value water. And we’re starting to see this, putting in place opportunities to reallocate water voluntarily,” Postel said. “I think figuring out ways to be more flexible and allow water to be reallocated, either on a short-term or a long-term basis, will really help us a lot.”

Entsminger, whose Las Vegas water agency is backing the new conservation program, called for more investments aimed at saving water on a large scale, including money from the federal government.

“Nothing in our economy is going to work without sufficient water to make it work, from food supplies, to energy production, to making microchips. All of these things are water-intensive and are going to need a secure water supply. So, at what level, locally, regionally or federally, do you begin to look at funding mechanisms to make the investments that are necessary to stretch these water supplies?” Entsminger said. “Ultimately you’ve got to talk about how to pay for it.”

Even as it declines, Lake Mead attracts crowds of boaters who spend weekends cruising among its islands and steep canyon walls. Among boaters, a big topic of discussion lately is how far the lake has dropped, and how the shorelines have changed.

“The lake was up over that rock last year,” Doug Bailey said from the deck of his boat, motioning to a craggy outcropping. “We just hope it doesn’t go down too far.”

Since 2000, when the reservoir was 97 percent full, the lake’s level has dropped about 130 feet.

Lake Mead water levels

If the water keeps dropping, it could eventually pose a threat to the supply of electricity generated by Hoover Dam, which on average produces enough power for 400,000 homes. Utilities are investing to try to head off that risk, installing new turbines that can effectively generate power at lower water levels.

As the water has receded at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the National Park Service has spent $36 million to adapt by relocating docks, extending boat ramps and constructing new parking areas. Three marinas have been moved, one marina was shut down, and three boat ramps were closed and replaced with new boat launches in other areas where the water is deeper.

The water has receded so far that at the privately run Callville Bay Resort Marina, the staff now use golf carts to ferry boaters from the parking lot down a long hill to the dock.

“Wherever the water goes, we follow,” said Kim Roundtree, the marina’s general manager. “With the water levels dropping, our maintenance department keeps quite busy.”

She has a staff of six employees who focus on moving the dock out as the water recedes. She also has hired divers to help with underwater work such as placing new anchors. The marina has hired companies to help extend water, power, sewer, and fuel lines every time the dock is moved out.

Those changes have happened quickly. At times this spring, the lake dropped by as much as 5 inches in a single day.

The marina recently was forced to close its main launch ramp and start using a new one built by the National Park Service.

Standing at the top of the hill above the marina, Roundtree pointed out the high-water mark on the rocks, a white “bathtub ring” left behind by the minerals in the water.

“All of this was water down here,” she said, motioning to the distant marina. “It’s low. It costs us a lot of money.”

For the marina, she said, adapting to lower lake levels this year will cost somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million.

The marina’s costs may offer a small-scale glimpse of the profound costs that lie ahead for the Southwest as the region begins to reckon with a water supply at its limits.

Lynne Stephenson and Robert Hopwood contributed to this report.

Ian James can be reached by email at and on Twitter at @TDSIanJames.

Climate change is starting to transform the deserts of the Southwest, triggering declines in Joshua trees in some areas, pushing populations of birds to higher elevations, and posing new threats for animals such as desert tortoises.

In this three-part series, The Desert Sun assesses the emerging impacts of climate change on the deserts of California and the Southwest. As average temperatures have risen, scientists have documented significant shifts in desert plants and animals.

Those changes are projected to intensify in the coming decades, radically altering landscapes, reducing mountain snowpack and river flows, and putting at risk the water supplies of people across the region.

This series explains the changes that have been documented by scientific research, analyzes trends in decades of climate data, and explores how a hotter climate is likely to profoundly affect a region that is already the hottest and driest in the nation.

In order to analyze changes in climate in the Southwest, The Desert Sun used the National Climatic Data Center’s online database and obtained monthly summaries for a selection of weather stations across much of the region, in Southern California, Arizona, and southern portions of Nevada and Utah. Thirty-one weather stations with some of the longest continuous records were chosen, with data on temperatures and precipitation starting between the 1890s and 1940s.

The data were analyzed by converting monthly average temperatures, as well as average monthly highs and lows, into averages by decade. Temperatures and precipitation during the past 20 years, since 1994, were then compared with the averages in the decades before 1960 — a time frame often used by scientists in studying climate change.

Share your ideas about what can be done to address climate change and prepare for its impacts. Connect with The Desert Sun on Facebook, send a tweet to @MyDesert or submit a letter to the editor by emailing

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100 objects in 100 days starts today

We’re beginning a special journey with a smile – specifically the one on Interstate 26 eastbound at Highway 601 – and from there we’re making 100 stops throughout the 1,100 square miles of Orangeburg County.

It’s called, “Orangeburg: 100 objects, 100 days” and The Times and Democrat along with its readers will serve as tour guides, so to speak.

The journey begins Monday and continues on the 99 days to follow in the pages of The Times and Democrat and online at, where the series that defines the county through the stories of 100 objects will include a building collection of photos and a matching game that you can play on your desktop computer, tablet or smartphone.

Among the objects to be included, for example, are those that make a splash, such as the waterwheel in the Edisto River at the Edisto Memorial Gardens and the county’s aquatics center on St. Matthews Road.

And while a billboard-sized striped bass, with its famously printed disclaimer “not quite actual size,” greets visitors on Interstate 95 southbound into Santee Cooper Country and Lake Marion’s famous fishing, Orangeburg County isn’t limited to its many waterways.

Taking to the sky, just outside of the town of North, a casual passerby may not realize there are 2,400 acres of land that make up the North Auxiliary Airfield and are owned by the U.S. Air Force. The base is used primarily for C-17 Globemaster III training by the 437th Airlift Wing and its Air Force Reserve “Associate” unit, the 315th Airlift Wing, at Charleston Air Force Base.

And prior to airplanes soaring throughout Orangeburg County, the world’s oldest railroad junction came to be in 1838 in the town of Branchville, one of the county’s 17 municipalities.

Despite progress, there have been difficult times. During times of war, Orangeburg County suffered, persevered and prevailed.

Throughout the county, homesteads and farmlands turned into battlefields and skirmish sites.

The former Orangeburg County Jail, also known as the Pink Palace, sits within the Orangeburg city limits on St. John Street. It was built in 1860 and in the last months of the Civil War in 1865, Union troops caused extensive damage to the jail’s interior. Repairs were made and the jail continued to be used to house and execute some inmates, according to historic records.

Just outside of Eutawville is a site dedicated to the Battle of Eutaw Springs on Sept. 8, 1781, one that historians describe among the “bloodiest” in America’s fight for independence from Great Britain.

Those who led South Carolina troops in battle were none other than Gen. Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion and Gen. Andrew Pickens.

And Orangeburg County continues to capture the picturesque Americana landscape of family-owned and operated small-town shops that have lasted for decades.

Valletine’s cotton gin and old country store, in the town of Cope, give visitors a real glimpse into a vintage country store where merchandise from the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s is displayed. The cotton gin, adjacent to the store, remains in operation, usually from September through December.

Also in the western portion of Orangeburg County is the town of Springfield, home of the Governor’s Annual Frog Jump and the historic Springfield High School.

But these are just a few samples of what readers may expect to read about in the coming 100 issues of The Times and Democrat and at

Orangeburg County offers a variety of unique objects, whether they’re objects that have etched a place in history or are new on the horizon of the county’s future, The Times and Democrat wants to hear from readers about objects that make Orangeburg County unique.

While The TD is using a draft list of objects to go along with the series, the list is flexible and needs contributions from TD readers.

If there’s a place, object or site that seems like a good match to go on the list of “Orangeburg: 100 objects, 100 days,” please submit suggestions online or by phone (using email, phone or Twitter below) or by writing to P.O. Drawer 1766, Orangeburg, S.C. 29116.

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Rock garden was answer to problem

Dry, clay soil that gets shade about half the day, followed by straight-on sun.

That describes one of the most difficult growing conditions a gardener faces. And, frustratingly, it’s a condition many people find right in front of their homes, along their foundations, right where they want things to look nice.

What to do?

Kathy and Dan Anderson tried a lot of different ideas in their 30 years of living at their Clinton home, “but nothing we ever planted grew there,” Kathy Anderson said.

Finally she turned to Jeff Rathje of Everlasting Landscape in McCausland, who suggested a rock garden mimicking what one might find in the Rocky Mountains.

The area now is filled with rocks, pea gravel, purple chicken grit, small, slow-growing conifers and various succulents, the type that have started to come on strong at nurseries in the last several years.

The planting “has worked out so beautifully,”Anderson said. “And every year it changes a little.”

You can see the Anderson garden from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 22, when it will be one of six properties in the Clinton area open for tours. The event is sponsored by the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Clinton County Master Gardeners.

Anderson is quick to acknowledge, though, that the rock garden is not maintenance-free. “There is no such thing,” she said.

While the succulent called hens and chicks survives the winter, some others do not and need to be replaced in spring. The pea gravel needs to be refreshed and removing leaves and “whirly birds” out of the rocks is a matter of picking them out by hand, as raking would disturb the gravel and rocks, Anderson said.

While typical garden design advice is to plant three or five of the same plant, Anderson has “literally no two plants alike” in this area. That is because if you have an arrangement, and one plant dies, “you can never get another one of the same size,” she said.

She borrowed this “individual plant” idea from the Bickelhaupt Arboretum, where in some gardens the idea is to showcase individuals. “I would highly recommend that way of doing things,” Anderson said. If you find a new plant that you like, you can just pop it in without destroying an arrangement.

Anderson buys her plants from all over, visiting as many as 25 to 30 nurseries each spring. Other features of the Anderson yard:

Numerous stone walls. Some are for retaining the land, as their yard is about six feet lower than their neighbor’s, and some simply outline planting beds.

Numerous containers. Anderson said she has changed her ways with containers over the years, too. Originally, like most people, she would buy (or plant) a container with many different plants. “But what I would find is that over the summer, one would die and others would tend to take over,” she said. So now she plants just one kind of plant in each container, then groups the containers.

• A sprinkler system for the front lawn. Because the lawn faces south with a slight slope, it was always dry. “Then we’d water and the water would end up running off and into the street,” she said.

The Andersons hired a landscaping firm —Meyer Landscape Design, Moline — to not only install the sprinkler system but to take off the clay and refill with black dirt and sod. In other words, to create better soil. Now Anderson finds the lawn doesn’t even need watering as much because the soil retains water longer. Previously, water would hit the clay, which is impermeable, and would run off.

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First butterfly garden to open in Dubai

Covering 4,000 square metres, the round-shaped butterfly garden will consist of nine custom-built domes and a butterfly museum. Each dome will be in a different colour, and will be home to 24 types of butterflies from several tropical countries. “The butterflies will be of different colours, shapes and sizes and will fly over a range of flowers and plants and around visitors,” said Rahhal.

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Garden walk offers serenity now, ideas for later

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The popular annual garden walk planned by the Woman’s National Farm and Garden Association Franklin Garden Club was last week. Begun in 1986, this event featured walk throughs of six outstanding gardens in the Franklin, Birmingham, Beverly Hills and Bloomfield Hills. Hundreds of people braved periodic rain to take in the splendor.

“This is a major fundraiser for us. We are a nonprofit organization and the money we raise goes to support horticultural and environmental projects,” said Pat Ciagne. “We have donated funds to 4-H student scholarships, Capuchin produce gardens, the Seven Ponds and the E.L. Johnson Nature Centers. We also work on the Franklin Library and Kreger house landscaping, Angels Place homes, and the Broughton garden. We don’t keep any money in the treasury, we give it all away.”

Chapter president Molly Hammerle said, “After months of planning, it is nice to have the garden walk day arrive. We have wonderful gardens.”

Siglinda Kelle-Pritchard noted that the gardens were more intimate this year. One hostess, Toni Grinnan, downsized from a very large garden. She is happy now in her new location and her “pocket gardens.”

As guests picked up their tickets and maps at the gazebo on the Village Green in Franklin, they had an opportunity to walk around and see the artisans on the green.

There were opportunities to purchase bee products, butterflies made out of soda bottles, hand-knit baby hats and flowers, hand-made scarves, tiles, dog treats, painted furniture, and glass garden ornaments. Beautiful annuals and perennials were also available.

Garden Walk guests studied their maps and planned strategy for visiting the six gardens. Near the Village Green was a lovely English Tudor Franklin home that featured a variety of trees and shrubs. “Ours is a ‘baby garden’,” said homeowner Kim Greidanus, “We have only been here eight years. We feel humble to have been chosen. Our hostas are thriving this year due to our new puppy deterring the deer. They haven’t eaten the hostas.”

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Increase curb appeal and interest by integrating these simple gardening tips

Goats for sale.


Sheep and goat-powered “lawn mowers” everywhere mourn the day that English landscape architect, Lancelot “Capability” Brown, conceived the idea of the modern lawn.

Fences soon followed.

Prior to this time, outdoor “lawns” consisted of bramble bushes, weeds and maybe some herbs—a bountiful feast for free-roaming furry nibblers.

This hodge-podge of tall grasses rolled into an estate’s pasture land and was not regularly watered or fertilized. In short, it was something Better Homes and Gardens would have considered a botanical eye-sore.

In the late 1700s, Brown began integrating gardening influences from France and Italy, tightening borders and creating yard space filled with plants, statues, sculptures, terraces and water features.

These well-groomed yards were admired and reveled by members of the gentry, thus reinforcing a present-day gardening affliction for which we have yet to find a cure:

Yard envy.

From the ground up

Cultivating and maintaining a lush, healthy lawn—admired by neighbors and roaming wildlife alike—is not difficult if you follow a few basic guidelines.

Dave Voegele, owner of Arbor Tech in Billings and certified arborist, said that the biggest mistake people make with their lawns is one that is easily corrected.

“We’ve all been guilty of mowing our lawn too short at one point or another,” Voegele said. “A well-maintained lawn should be between 2 and 3 ½ inches tall; anything less is too short.”

Setting your mower’s blade to the highest option will alleviate this headache. Also be sure that your mower’s blade has been sharpened (jagged, crispy grass edges are a dead giveaway of mower malfeasance).

Perhaps taking a little too much off the top wasn’t an accident. Maybe you purposefully cut your grass short knowing you’d be gone for a four-day weekend to Fort Peck. Think again.

A shorter lawn lacks depth and lushness but also has a tendency to dry out quicker, Voegele added. Your too-short lawn will likely look like a desert wasteland upon your return.

Winter woes

Decks, driveways, patio furniture and the lawn all took a beating from the string of subzero temperatures last winter.

“Last winter was especially brutal,” Voegele said, “and I’m dealing with more winter kill now than I can remember.”

To combat winter kill, which essentially looks like expansive dry patches of lawn, Voegele recommends vigorously raking out the dead grass and replanting with a mixture of seed, potting soil and topsoil—water generously.

Later in the summer season, Voegele said to be on the look-out for grubs and webworms chewing through your top layer of grass. Damage presents itself as dry or barren patches of grass, so it’s sometimes difficult to tell who the culprit is; professionals like Voegele can help to ID the source.

Stand tall and proud

Mature trees are coveted for their shade and majestic beauty. But whether you have mature trees on your property or are considering planting new, time and care must be taken to properly maintain them.

“If you’ve got Siberian Elms or Ponderosa Pines on your property, chances are they sustained marked dehydration from last season’s winter kill and wind,” Voegele said.

Give these species extra TLC as they rehydrate and recoup the cold.

If starting from scratch and integrating trees into new construction, Voegele suggests staying away from Aspen and opting instead for Australian Pines, Colorado Blue Spruce, Green Ash or Locust trees.

“Aspen are very susceptible to bugs, fungus and scales,” Voegele said. “People buy them because they are relatively inexpensive and grow quickly, but in this case, you get what you pay for.”

Flower power

Lawn looks lush—check.

Trees are healthy and offering ample shade to the backyard—check.

The next step to maximizing your home’s curb appeal is by adding a splash of color and whimsy.

Whether you opt for a bountiful hanging basket of petunias or a full-fledged flower bed of moss roses, Ajuga, geraniums and marigolds, Steve Pottenger, owner of Jim’s Jungle and Garden Center, has just the bloom for you.

“Our hanging baskets are always a popular choice because of their versatility,” Pottenger said, adding that customers have also been opting for water-wise plant life like native grasses and succulents.

When it comes to watering, Pottenger suggests a saturation of 1-2 inches of water per week for flowers (more, of course, if we’re experiencing scorching weather.)

For a garden gate or trellis, Pottenger suggests adding color and texture with Clematis Roses, which crawl and swirl creating a fresh, thick secret garden of blooms.

For the walkway, try subtle landscaping and soft creeping flowers like Lobeila or Alyssum. Stay away from sprawling blooms with vines, as these can inadvertently trip visitors.

“There’s no exact science to planting flowers,” he said. “Choose what speaks to you and makes you smile.”

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Nobedan stone path building tips from the Portland Japanese Garden

A Japanese path is not simply a way of moving around the garden without getting your shoes muddy, says Sadafumi Uchiyama, garden curator of the Portland Japanese Garden. Rather, it is a precisely designed element that directs you to certain points where the view is carefully constructed to be seen from that point.

Nobedan refers to a method of stone paving that features a large rectangular stone path that is made by paving together numerous smaller stones, he adds. Stepping stone paths are designed to unite separate parts of a garden, often with different atmospheres. A nobedan path would be in contrast to a stepping stone path.

People participating in the Portland Japanese Garden nobedan stone path workshop June 21-22 ($175, register by calling 503-542-0282 or online) will learn how to plan a path design, select appropriate materials, lay the correct type of groundwork or foundation for the style as well as the process of shaping and placing stones to best advantage.

There will be lots of hands-on information offered in a workshop guide, but here are highlights for DIYers:

Tips for paving a stone path:

  • Be cautious about the use of random materials or too much variety – two or three types of stone looks best. Select stones with some texture for traction.
  • Lay a path with a complex design on a level site over a concrete base.
  • Consider building a frame for the path within which to work. Fill the frame with a dry set, sand or cement for a concrete base.
  • Make sure that the surface allows rain and irrigation to run off, preventing the surface from becoming dangerously slippery.
  • Hints for placing stones: Start from a corner and set larger stones near the edges first. Fill the space with smaller stones.

— Homes Gardens of the Northwest staff

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How to Design a Backyard Forest Garden

Other low-growing trees include flowering species, such as dogwood and mountain ash, and some nitrogen fixers, including golden-chain tree, silk tree, and mountain mahogany. Both large and small nitrogen-fixing trees grow quickly and can be pruned heavily to generate plenty of mulch and compost.

3. The Shrub Layer. This tier includes flowering, fruiting, wildlife-attracting, and other useful shrubs. A small sampling: blueberry, rose, hazelnut, butterfly bush, bamboo, serviceberry, the nitrogen-fixing Elaeagnus species and Siberian pea shrub, and dozens of others. The broad palette of available shrubs allows the gardener’s inclinations to surface, as shrubs can be chosen to emphasize food, crafts, ornamentals, birds, insects, native plants, exotics, or just raw biodiversity.

Shrubs come in all sizes, from dwarf blueberries to nearly tree-sized hazelnuts, and thus can be plugged into edges, openings, and niches of many forms. Shade-tolerant varieties can lurk beneath the trees, sun-loving types in the sunny spaces between.

4. The Herb Layer. Here herb is used in the broad botanical sense to mean nonwoody vegetation: vegetables, flowers, culinary herbs, and cover crops, as well as mulch producers and other soil-building plants. Emphasis is on perennials, but we won’t rule out choice annuals and self-seeding species. Again, shade-lovers can peek out from beneath taller plants, while sun-worshiping species need the open spaces. At the edges, a forest garden can also hold more traditional garden beds of plants dependent on full sun.

5. The Ground-Cover Layer. These are low, ground-hugging plants—preferably varieties that offer food or habitat—that snuggle into edges and the spaces between shrubs and herbs. Sample species include strawberries, nasturtium, clover, creeping thyme, ajuga, and the many prostrate varieties of flowers such as phlox and verbena. They play a critical role in weed prevention, occupying ground that would otherwise succumb to invaders.

6. The Vine Layer. This layer is for climbing plants that will twine up trunks and branches, filling the unused regions of the all-important third dimension with food and habitat. Here are food plants, such as kiwifruit, grapes, hops, passionflower, and vining berries; and those for wildlife, such as honeysuckle and trumpet-flower. These can include climbing annuals such as squash, cucumbers, and melons. Some of the perennial vines can be invasive or strangling; hence, they should be used sparingly and cautiously.

7. The Root Layer. The soil gives us yet another layer for the forest garden; the third dimension goes both up and down. Most of the plants for the root layer should be shallow rooted, such as garlic and onions, or easy-to-dig types such as potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes. Deep-rooted varieties such as carrots don’t work well because the digging they require will disturb other plants. I do sprinkle a few seeds of daikon (Asian radish) in open spots because the long roots can often be pulled with one mighty tug rather than dug; and, if I don’t harvest them, the blossoms attract beneficial bugs and the fat roots add humus as they rot.

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