Southern Wisconsin is suffering through a severe drought. This is the worst drought in 55 years. Nationwide, 55% of the contiguous United States is in moderate to extreme drought according to the Palmer Drought Index, which measures such things. The previous highest Palmer Drought Index was in December, 1956 when 58% of the continuous U.S. was in moderate to extreme drought. (See the U.S. Drought Monitor for more details.)
Madison has a 7″ rainfall deficit for the year according to statistics from the National Weather Service published in this morning’s Wisconsin State Journal. Lawn’s are turning brown–the grass either dormant or dead. Many street trees are showing typical signs of distress like shriveled or crispy brown leaves. Some newer street trees planted in the past two to three years have already died. You can see the full range tree distress on trees planted in the Midvale Boulevard median strip in 2010.
Yet, in the midst of all this environmental stress, someone assigned (or allowed) this worker to mow dormant or dead grass last week. Besides there being no growing grass to mow, the worker was using up precious gas, polluting the air with petroleum fumes, and stirring up dust–just the things we all need now.
What could this worker have done instead of mowing? Well for one, watering trees desperate for a drink. While the worker was whirling around on his mower and stirring up dust devils, nearby street trees were drying up. For example, the Japanese tree lilac (shown below) just a couple of blocks away on Seminole Highway near Nakoma Road is showing typical signs of distress.
We know the city can’t get to all the urban forest trees that need water so, why not ask for help? Why not ask homeowners to water street trees in front of their homes? Why not give a break on water bills to citizens who adopt a street tree and keep them going through this drought? Why not station a full water truck in a park or on a city block overnight (or on weekends when city staff are off ) and ask neighborhood residents to water as many trees as they can?