Lotusland and the Drought –

March 13, 2014

Message from Gwen Stauffer, Executive Director


Dear members and friends,

California has had ten droughts in the last 100 years, including the drought we are experiencing right now. While a century of hydrological and meteorological records do not represent the full range of our climate system’s natural variability, paleoclimate information such as tree-ring data and streamflow reconstruction have identified droughts prior to our historical record that were far more severe – some lasting over 200 hundred years.  Scientific evidence indicates that our climate circulates between wet and dry periods, and also suggests that we are now finishing a “wet weather” cycle, and are about to enter a “dry weather” cycle.

In other words, California is due for more extreme droughts than we have historically known, even while California’s demand for water is dramatically increasing. Our current water infrastructure and water supplies are not designed to manage our thirsty demand during current droughts, let alone worsening drought conditions.

In the drought that lasted from 1987 to 1992, twenty-three California counties declared local drought emergencies, but Santa Barbara experienced the greatest water supply reductions among the larger urban areas. Even with the recent rainy reprieve at the end of February, Santa Barbara remains in a water shortage emergency.

Ironically, the mild temperatures of the Mediterranean climate in which we live are hospitable to a broad diversity of plant species so that, with plenty of water, we can grow just about any plant in our Santa Barbara gardens. The limiting factor determining the plant species we select should be water – or rather, the lack of it. Yet it is not only what we choose to cultivate, but how we choose to cultivate that can make all the difference in the drought tolerance of our gardens.

Over 20 years ago, Lotusland chose to adopt sustainable horticulture practices in the gardens, not only as a policy decision but as a way of life. Many of these sustainable techniques not only eliminated the use of all chemical pesticides and fertilizers in the gardens, but helped reduce the demand for water. Some sections of Lotusland are not irrigated, and for those that are we have developed numerous horticultural strategies to reduce our use of water even while we protect the rare and endangered plant species in our collections and preserve the distinctive aesthetics of this historic garden.

Water conservation and self-imposed rationing is a cornerstone of our sustainable gardening model. To learn more about Lotusland’s intelligent use of water, check out the Green Garden Practices on our website.

Warm and rainy wishes,

Gwen L. Stauffer

February 20, 2014

Message from Victoria Greene,
Montecito Association Executive Director


Dear Community Member,

Given current drought conditions and severely limited water supplies available to Montecito, it is imperative that we all reduce our water use.  We invite you to learn how you can conserve water at home.

Please join us on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 from 6-8 p.m. in the Montecito Union School Auditorium for a Water Conservation Workshop hosted by the Montecito Union School District and the Montecito Association.

You can also go to http://montecitoassociation.org/community/community-interests/water-shortage-emergency for additional information and links to water conservation information.


Victoria Greene,
Executive Director
Montecito Association

Information on the February 25, 2014 Water Conservation Workshop Meeting

February 12, 2014

Message from Gwen Stauffer, Executive Director

Santa Barbara is suffering one of the worst droughts in our history. This is a very, very serious situation. According to the Montecito Water District (MWD), the current demand for water by Montecito and Summerland exceeds all of our current sources. Even if our lakes and reservoirs were at full capacity (which they are not), our current demand for water would exceed that supply.  The MWD also informs us that 80% of our water is used for landscaping. And, according to the MWD, if the Montecito and Summerland communities do not immediately implement significant conservation measures to reduce overall water consumption by 30%, the communities will have their faucets turned off – literally – by August.

Mike Iven (Director of Grounds) and I attended a public forum held by the Montecito Water District on February 11, 2014, at which they officially adopted Ordinance 92, declaring the emergency status of the drought and calling for voluntary conservation measures to achieve the overall 30% reduction goal. I am sure all of you have seen or heard about this in the news. Mike and I also attended a second meeting on February 12th, concerning Montecito Water District’s strategies for a second ordinance calling for mandatory water use reductions and specified allocations for every account in Montecito. This is a notable departure from all previous drought emergencies, which is a clear indication of the profoundly extreme nature of the drought situation.

The Lotusland staff and I are fielding many inquiries about Lotusland’s water use and water status, and we are pleased to respond to these inquiries, given the information we have to date.  We want to give you as much information as possible so that you, too, can be comfortable in responding to any questions you might receive from your friends, neighbors, and the community at large.

Please allow me to clarify a few important points:

–  When the MWD talks about “running out of water,” they are talking about the water that is in water district reservoirs, lakes, and other sources in which they have ownership or purchase rights.

–  MWD has no authority on the drilling or management of wells — they control only the potable water sources, meters, and use.

As for Lotusland, here are some key points to know:

–  Water conservation is integral to our culture – Lotusland’s sustainable horticulture practices have built up our soils so well in the past 20 years that our gardens require far less irrigation than other gardens of this size and with this composition of plants.

–   Lotusland is not a big consumer of MWD water. We own a well and a small reservoir, all of which is dedicated to irrigation for the gardens, ponds, and fountains. We are well below our water allocation as recently determined by the Montecito Water District.

–  Our well has never run dry, even in the infamous seven-year drought. However, we are not smug about this, because all of Montecito shares very complex and varied aquifers. We are genuinely concerned about our well, and everyone else’s too.

So, bottom line – what are we doing about all this?

– First, you need to know that we have always monitored our irrigation use daily. We conduct routine soil probes to monitor soil moisture to irrigate only when necessary, and we irrigate during the early hours of the day when evaporation is minimal. Even so, we are cutting back well water use in the garden by 20% to 25%.

– Will we let the lawn go brown?  Maybe, maybe not. We understand that the “greenness” of lawns is a typical benchmark for drought response, but this is not exactly accurate in the case of our lawn, which is a mix of grasses and broadleaf plants (turf lovers would call them “weeds”). This mix of plants makes our lawn less thirsty. As we cut back on water, the grass plants decline and may eventually die and turn brown, but some of the “weeds” continue to thrive so the lawn still appears green. Having said that, in the last major drought (lasting seven years), we stopped watering the lawn and it turned completely brown. So, the approach to the lawn is long term, and a bit of “wait and see”.

–  Lotusland staff has implemented other measures in our daily routines to conserve potable water. This is the water that the MWD is most concerned about, and is the most controversial. As we gear up, we will implement even more sophisticated measures — we will ask for help from our guests to do this. I will have more details on this later, but some of these measures will be quite obvious when you participate in our future events and activities.

MWD continues to commend Lotusland for taking a leadership position on water conservation and we use much less than our allocated MWD water. This is a very delicate commendation, as we will do whatever it takes to preserve our extremely rare plant collections. We were very welcome at the MWD meetings, and our presence was requested, as Lotusland is seen as a model for water conservation. Even so, we believe we could do more and do better, and we are prepared to explore all options, even those which are beyond our means and will require outside funding sources to accomplish.

We will keep you posted as this situation continues to develop and please explore the valuable links we have placed below.   In the meantime, pray for rain.

Gwen Stauffer, 
Executive Director


Montecito Water District: Water Shortage Emergency Declaration

Water Wise in Santa Barbara County

City of Santa Barbara: Water Wise Landscaping