The Santa Barbara Channel is vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate. Your yard can help protect it.
The Santa Barbara Channel is one of the most biologically productive ecosystems found on Earth. However, changing oceanographic processes, warming water temperatures, ocean acidification, and sea level rise produced by a changing climate are already affecting the health of marine ecosystems.
We’ve seen recently how coastal runoff from intense rains and flooding flushes trash and debris into the Santa Barbara Channel, degrading water quality. We’ve also seen how high nutrient levels from coastal runoff contribute to harmful algal blooms. Yet our community can minimize some of these impacts by making a few changes in their own yards.
By conserving water and managing runoff, focusing on soil health, and reducing emissions from lawn care equipment, each of us can lessen our yard’s climate impact while conserving resources and enhancing habitat. Here are a few ideas to implement in your landscaped space.
Replace Your Lawn
Fertilizing, mowing, blowing, and irrigating a lawn leads to a sizable climate footprint. In 2011, an Environmental Protection Agency report found that gas-powered lawn and garden equipment emitted approximately 6.3 million tons of volatile organic compounds and criteria pollutants (carbon, nitrous oxide, and particulate matter), and 20.4 million tons of carbon dioxide. By planting a variety of native, drought-tolerant plants, trees, shrubs, and ground covers that don’t require high maintenance, you can reduce your landscape’s water use, while providing habitat for birds, pollinators, and beneficial insects. You can make the transition gradually over time by replacing a different patch of turf each year. In addition, many municipalities offer rebates when you replace your lawn with water-wise plants.
Focus on Soil Health
Healthy soils are the base of thriving ecosystems. Soils rich with organic matter support healthy populations of beneficial organisms while retaining moisture and helping sequester carbon.
Avoid using synthetic fertilizers. Synthetic fertilizers are not only extremely energy-intensive to manufacture, but they also provide more nitrogen than plants can absorb, contributing to polluted runoff and hazardous algae blooms in the ocean, lakes, and rivers that collect runoff.
Alternatively, composting food and yard waste is a great way to build healthy soil in your yard. Organic material will improve the fertility, soil structure, and water-holding capacity of your landscape. Planting a cover crop is another way to support healthy soil since plants can help hold soil prevent runoff during heavy rains, protect soil from evaporation during droughts, and capture nutrients to prevent nutrient loss in runoff.
Be Water Wise
Long periods of drought followed by heavy rains make it increasingly important for each of us to manage and use water wisely. Collecting water from your roof in rain barrels, a cistern, or storage tanks can help you to retain water for future use.
It’s also a good idea to consider the permeability of your landscape and make the most of downpours by diverting stormwater to designated areas in your yard where it can infiltrate and recharge groundwater resources.
When irrigation is necessary, drip systems tend to waste less water to evaporation and runoff than conventional sprinklers. Mulching around the base of plants can also help prevent moisture loss while nourishing the soil.
Use People Power
Reduce your yard’s greenhouse gas emissions by limiting the gas-powered equipment you use to maintain it. Lawn and garden equipment like lawnmowers and leaf blowers account for up five percent of total air pollution in the United States. In fact, according to the EPA, one gas mower spews 88 lbs. of greenhouse gas CO2, and 34 lbs. of other pollutants into the air every year. For a climate-smart alternative, choose hand tools like reel mowers, shovels, and brooms.
Santa Barbara County
WaterWise Santa Barbara Landscape Rebate Program