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The Drought and Our Parks

As California enters its fourth year of drought, the East Bay Regional Park District is working hard to save water, protect our natural resources, and educate the public about what to expect in our wild spaces and how park visitors can help during this challenging time.

On April 1, 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown has called for a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water use statewide. At the Park District, we’ve already taken numerous steps to reach this goal. Across the District, we’re:

  • Drastically reducing irrigation for lawns and ball fields
  • Replacing lawns in many parks with native and drought-tolerant grasses
  • Thinning vegetation near homes to reduce fire hazards
  • Redesigning irrigation systems to be more efficient
  • Encouraging visitors to save water whenever possible

Here are a few ways in which the drought has impacted our parks:

Water Quality

As the lack of rain and warmer air temperatures persist, toxic blooms of blue-green algae and other water-quality issues are likely to increase at lakes, shorelines, ponds, and streams throughout the Park District and throughout California. In the past few months, several dogs here and around the state have died as a result of ingesting toxic algae.

Our water-quality specialists regularly test for indicators of potentially harmful bacteria levels and post the results on our Water Resources page, as well as at our parks. We also work closely with the environmental health agencies in Alameda and Contra Costa counties to ensure we’re meeting the highest safety standards and the public is well informed.
If you plan to go swimming this summer, please check signs around the swim area for water-quality updates. Staff can also answer questions about water-quality conditions. If an area is unsafe for swimming, the District will close it until conditions improve.

As a precaution, we suggest visitors:           

  • Shower after swimming
  • Don’t drink the water
  • Keep dogs away from water
  • Check signs and stay informed on water-quality conditions

In addition, the salinity levels along the Carquinez Strait have increased because of the lack of rain and fresh-water stream runoff. This has affected trees and plants that grow along the shoreline, and the species that rely on fresh water in the Bay.

 

Drought 2
Santa Barbara wild lilac is a colorful
and hardy addition to any garden. 

Drought 4
Sage comes in numerous varieties
and is easy to grow in the Bay Area.

Forests

The drought has been devastating for trees throughout California. In the past year, 12 million trees across the state have died due to lack of water, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Forest Service. Millions more are stressed, which means they’re more susceptible to parasites and disease.
The result is increased risk of falling trees and wildfires. In addition, forest ecosystems can be affected when tree canopies, sunlight, nutrients, and microclimates change.  
At the Park District, we’ve seen pines, oaks, and even redwoods die or become stressed because of lack of water, and likely become more susceptible to boring beetles and other infestations. We’re closely monitoring our forests and removing dead trees when we can.
Learn more about the District's Tree Management efforts. 

 
 Drought 3
The East Bay Regional Parks’ Botanic Garden is a great
place to learn about native-plant gardening. 

Fires

With drier forests and grasslands, the risk of wildfires has increased significantly. Some parts of California now see year-round fire seasons, and crews are battling thousands more fires than they have in years past, according to the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. 
The East Bay, which has a long history of deadly wildfires, is especially vulnerable because of the proximity of dense urban areas to wild open spaces. Our crews have been vigilant about thinning and removing hazardous trees, clearing brush, and working with other jurisdictions to minimize the threat of fires. The public can help by park rules regarding smoking, barbecues, and campfires. This includes only smoking where allowed, properly disposing cigarette butts, not driving over dry grass , and barbecuing and building campfires only in designated areas and only when safe. See our Fire Safety Resources page for more information.

 
Drought 5
Adding mulch is a good way to enrich the soil
and lock in moisture. 

Amphibians

The lack of rain has left ponds and streams lower than normal, and drying up earlier in the season. As a result, frogs have fewer places to breed, are more exposed to predators, and their populations are in decline. This has been a particular hardship for the foothill yellow-legged frog and the threatened California red-legged frog, which are already facing threats from non-native species and disease.
Our ecologists monitor amphibian populations weekly throughout the Park District and work with other agencies and organizations to continue researching these important native species.
Keeping dogs and people out of creeks is a great way to help protect habitat for these animals during these dry years. 

 
Drought 1
We’re replacing turf with native and drought-tolerant
plants in parks throughout the District.