Bathtub ring on Lake Mead

Lake Powell in Arizona is now at an all-time low of 25% capacity. Lake Mead is at 29%. The lake’s level has dropped more than 50 feet last year alone. And, estimates show that the lake loses one foot of water per week with the demands for agricultural irrigation. Soon the hydro-electric capabilities may no longer generate power. These elements are both alarming and the reality of the past 22 years of significant drought. With climate change the Colorado River basin has received considerably less rainfall, and this trend may be here to stay for the foreseeable future. The first major cuts in water use will go to agriculture. As roughly 90% of Lake Powell and Lake Mead’s water is currently slated for agriculture, we’ll likely see a major increase in the cost of fresh produce typically grown in California’s central valley as well as Arizona too.

One of the major questions effecting homeowners regarding San Diego’s landscape design in a mega drought is how will the deceased water sources impact residential landscaping? California’s Governor Newsom had recently asked all of Southern California to begin reducing our water usage. Although this past March, water use increased 19%.  We hear typical suggestions of only running your dishwasher and washer when they are full and turn off water while brushing your teeth, etc. This won’t have too great of an impact of the big picture. 40 million people depend on the current water resources. The future of our region demands a great deal more future changes.

Recent conservation efforts in Southern California have stated that areas around Los Angeles will soon face only once weekly irrigation. Typical lawns cannot survive on one day per week. The former symbol of prosperity, the lush green lawn will soon become a sign of conspicuous consumption. Any neighbor with a still green lawn will become the outcasts of the area as they signify that they don’t care about conserving water and compliance toward minimizing the devastating effects of the future of our water supply. And, let’s face it; it won’t be easy to establish any new plantings on one day per week unless the landscape is all cacti. A couple of good contenders are Golden Barrel Cactus, Agave or Prickly Pear Cactus. Even California native plants need regular irrigation, three times per week for roughly 18 months to become established.


San Diego’s landscape design in a mega drought may not yet be affected.  Although I read that San Diego is poised to have enough water up to the year 2040, based on agreements made with various water agencies and a nearby reservoir, we can’t take this situation lightly. I know I’ve lost sleep at times wondering how we’ll be able to continue to enjoy outdoor living as well as having reliable water running through our taps in our homes. As a landscape designer I have to encourage my clients to start considering the impacts of this future crisis.

We’ve learned from previous droughts to reduce or omit lawns, omit the use of high water use plants such as tropicals, to embrace artificial turf and use significantly more succulents, ornamental grasses, and also California Native plants. Even artificial turf may gain greater popularity in that it takes nothing to stay green (of course someday these fake lawns will end up in land fill. So turf is not so really eco-friendly).

San Diego’s Landscape Design in a Mega Drought

I’ve read that the city of Healdsburg, CA has experienced water shortages more recently as the Russian River water shed’s limited precipitation has forced water cutbacks. Homeowners there are now installing water tanks on their properties and purchasing recycled water to use in their irrigation practices. Las Vegas, NV has now mandated that all lawn in the city is to be removed and converted to xeriscape landscapes by 2025. Israel is a model scenario as it recycles 90% of its waste water and has been able to sustain itself with minimal precipitation for years.

Clearly, San Diego’s landscape design in a mega drought has a long way to go in the efforts to utilize water and waste water to its maximum potential. This mega drought has been over 20 years in the making, however very few people or politicians seem to realize that too little is too late. We can’t bury our heads in the sand over this scenario. This is climate change in action. This drought may go on for another 10 years. Do the math people, there isn’t enough water in Lake Powel or Lake Meade to provide any rescue. Keep in mind, it’s not just California, there have been droughts in Oregon, Idaho, Utah (the “not so Great Salt Lake is also drying up).

Everyone at some point will be forced to change how they view water as it will become the “new gold”.  Costs of water will surely rise with the limited availability. Our water agencies will restrict the flow of water or at least the velocity… our faucets may only trickle at some point in the future, or there may be times we won’t have water. Our “California Dreaming” mentality may not seem so dream-like 10 years (or sooner) from now. And, furthermore the fines the city plans to impose. For example, a  $500 fine for watering lawns within 48 hours of any rainfall.  And also fines for any irrigation runoff into the curb of the street. Not sure how or who will enforce, but surely something to think twice about.

Now is the time to remove the thirsty lawns, use DG (decomposed granite), crushed rock, succulents, grasses and CA native plants. So many of my clients tell me they love the “Palm Springs Look” and it appears we will see more of that look here in our formerly lush San Diego.

Letz Design takes this water crisis seriously and you should too. To learn more about how to minimize your water consumption within the landscape contact me today at