Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bustin’ My Ash on the West Side – Cleaning Up After Another Ash Storm

Across the nation, Christmas means snowflakes on the trees and snow blowers for finding your driveway. This year in Santa Barbara, it means dusty, stinking brown ash and grit on everything. Humbug!

This summer’s Zaca Fire (240,000 acres and a $120 million price tag) has been out for months, but when the weather conditions are right (okay, wrong) winds from the inland areas pick up the months-old ash and carry it over the mountains to the coast. We literally had a taste of it a few months ago, and now we’ve had two dust storms in one week.

I just got in from sweeping my driveway. It’s about 65 ft. by 25 ft. and using an 18” wide broom, I estimate that was about 1.5443 billion strokes (always show your work: 1625 square feet times the square root of my shoe size, allowing for a 4 mph head wind, minus 27 for Celsius = 1.5 billion rounded up).

I think I performed the most environmentally sensitive sweeping that is within my means. I was motivated after watching the maintenance person this morning at La Arcada downtown. For the second time this week, he washed down every square inch of surface in that exquisite (though a bit kitche for my taste) urban shopping paradise with a hose. Water everywhere, eventually running over the sidewalk and into the gutter

On Monday, I watched in brooding silence as he performed his task. I had a great speech going in my head on all the reasons why what he was doing was a terrible thing. Foremost, we don’t have any freakin’ water to spare! 6 inches last “rainy season” and not much to speak of yet this year. Second, all the ash, leaves and who-knows-what would eventually find its way to a storm drain, then into Mission Creek. Huge environmental no-no. Oh yeah, it’s also against the law.

So today, I put on my smiley face, mustered up my assertiveness and we had a civil talk. I already knew his defense, which is the same as most of you dealing with this at your homes. If you sweep, it raises a cloud of dust, which not only chokes you, but most of what you’re trying to get rid of rises into the air, only to resettle again. Blowers are definitely out, and most people don’t have yard vacuums (though they are the coming thing and you might want to investigate them). He listened politely as I spun my tale of environmentally friendly ash kicking. Behold…Here’s what I ended up doing over the weekend and again today.

Step one – grab a hose and an adjustable nozzle and set it on “mist.” Tut, tut, tut – we’re not going to use more than a few gallons.

Step two – make a quick pass over a section of the driveway, barely moistening the surface without creating anything resembling a puddle.

Step three – grab a Stiff Quickie. No, really! (Get your mind out of the gutter. It’s a push broom I bought a few weeks ago at Home Improvement Center. When I read the register receipt I almost lost it. Some brainiac at the broom company named this model the Stiff Quickie, so get back to reading this brilliant set of instructions.)

Step four - start sweeping in short strokes. The barely moist dirt stays on the ground, no dust, no muss, no fuss!!! If you have a planted area nearby, push everything into the bed. It won’t harm your plants as it works into the soil. If you don’t have a bed to sweep into make a pile, pick it up, bag and seal it, and put it in the trash can – don’t want to choke the guys who dump the container, ‘cause this stuff is going to dry out.

If you absolutely have to wash some areas down, wash into a planted area to keep this toxic soup from reaching our water ways. If that’s impossible, try laying out a bundle of straw or an old pair of jeans to intercept as much of the water-borne debris as you can before it reaches the gutter.

So, I got a little exercise, my green credentials are reinforced, my conscience is clear, and my driveway is clean. Ash or not, we are often tempted to wash down surfaces around our homes. Maybe you can keep this in mind next time. I hope so.


Katie said...

Grr I hate it when people waste water. You should have taught him how to do it correctly! Then you could have converted one more person to the water savers crusade!

Anonymous said...

I for one am not sure of the total consequences of the Zaca fire and the continuance of these ash storms. All I can say is that if we are going to be miserably buried in this horrible ash, eveytime there is a strong Santa Ana wind, then we are all headed for property devaluations, as if the national news gets hold of this possible fact, it will be damaging for all of us who own property here. I wonder if there is a way to speed up the process of vegetation growth by seeding certain areas of the fire now, for some new spring growth. I think it will take 3-4 years for any growth at the fire site to form a cover to hold back most of the ash from going airborne. I think that the ground covering process can be improved with some proper native plant seeding.
This is much worse than those nasty leaf blowers everybody uses here in SB.

Garden Wise Guy said...

Katie: Thanks for leaving you comments. For the sake of keeping this post compact, I left out the conversation I had with this very receptive person. He listened without hostility (I was pretty civil myself), I shared the solutions I noted in this post, and I shared some other local resources. I understand your passion about wasting water. I'm a bit of a fanatic myself.

Anonymous: As much as I empathize with your concern over property values, there's a broader picture to appreciate. A few points you might appreciate...

1) When you choose to live in an area that nature has designed to burn, you have some consequences. Ash is the least of them. Try rebuilding or burying a family member. I'm grateful we're not going through what the San Diego-area folks are probably facing.

2) Reseeding, if it were financially viable, would require having endemic seed collected from the burn area prior to it having burned. In the old days, the "authorities" would get a bunch of rye grass seed like you'd use on your lawn, and fly over, dropping seed. Non-native plants completely disrupts the natural system, preventing it from reestablishing.

3) The chaparral will heal itself much faster than you think. By spring there will be a vast array of "pioneer" plants popping up and they will begin to knit the soil back together. It starts with small native grasses, bulbs, annuals and perennials that opportunistically emerge under post-fire conditions. Then many of the woody plants will re-sprout from the burned burls.

I'm willing to sweep a bit of ash and grateful the Zaca Fire didn't find its way into our community. By most accounts we were a day away from getting a two hour evacuation warning, with Montecito being the first part of the community to burn. Imagine that conflagration.

David Pritchett said...

I was greeted on Christmas morning by a plume of this dirty dust blowing into my garden and kitchen from the DIRT BLOWER of my neighbor.

But according to the City, it is okay because it was an electric-powered dirt blower.

DrBud said...

I wrote the same thoughts in a News-Press letter two months ago.
This water to mud to ocean thing is really unacceptable on a lot of counts. The mist idea is a good one if it works but every large business should be required to have a vacuum for such chores. But then again, common sense is anything but common.

Garden Wise Guy said...

David & DrBud: thanks for leaving your comments.

The city's leaf blower ordinance only addressed the noise part of the equation and doesn't deal with the effects of all the crap that gets sent airborne. DrBud has it right about vacuums, but most of those are gas powered to adequately create the suction needed, so we're back to the noise problem.

So we have homeowners and commercial properties who don't want to pay for a crew to manually sweep everything (which truly would be financially burdensome) and an equation that's hard to solve.

When I'm king, things will be different. Vote for me. No, sorry, you don't get a vote, but I'll be sure to be a benevolent dictator.

Anonymous said...

People all around are hosing off ash into gutters ... everyone from homeowners to renters to businesses to churches. Very few are using brooms. And gardeners are blowing the ashes onto others' properties. They are wearing masks and I've seen clouds of ashes rising 10 feet in the air. If the City Council wants to have an impact on this world, perhaps it should set some policy about water usage and healthful coexistence.

Garden Wise Guy said...

Anonymous - I'm also surprised at the lack of leadership coming from the City's water conservation people and the Clean Creeks division at my very own Parks and Recreation Department.

This is not the first community that has had a similar problem and there must be a Best Management Practice for dealing with events like this.

Carol said...

I'm a new reader of your blog. I admire your approach to cleaning up the ash. Living where I do, central Indiana, I can't imagine having a similar problem here. The closest we get, I suppose, is the annual leaf raking in the fall. Though far less environmentally destructive, neighbors can and often are at odds on frequency of raking, raking at all, use of blowers, vacs, etc.

Anonymous said...

So you hose your driveway and the water and ash make their way to the ocean. Is this any different than the wind driven dust settling on the ocean?
Jim, Santa Barbara

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Garden Wise Guy said...

Anonymous Jim: In the long run, you are correct. Much of the dust does not fall on private property, or falls on roofs and other surfaces that won't get flushed until a good rain comes our way. So the percentage that does not reach the creeks from our actions, is probably not huge.

I still see three benefits: waste less water, breath less dust for those who will not want to waste water, and keep as much as we can out of the creeks because it all counts.

I didn't post this blog to change the world or reduce global warming or to end hunger. It was a snappy discovery of mine to try a better way. I posted this to help others. Judging from the 600+ hits in 24 hours, a lot of people seem to want this information. Perhaps I'm preaching to the choir, but that doesn't hurt.

Thanks for leaving your comment.

il parra said...

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Anonymous said...

So I went to home improvement to buy my stiff quickie -- after an awkward moment with the young man who asked if I needed any help and who quickly redirected me to hardware claiming no knowledge of brooms -- I found the bulldozer quickie, so labeled on both product and receipt. I hope it works as well as your broom. In the meantime, mindful of your comments, I did hose down my patio and flagstones watching all of the water go into my garden. I'll use the broom on the driveway where the water would inevitably either go into my garage or into the gutter. Thanks for the mist and sweep tip!


Garden Wise Guy said...

Deborah - as they say in Australia, "good on ya, mate." Thanks for giving it a try and I hope you enjoyed your adventures in broom shopping. Who knew it could be 'R' rated?

You'll find that there's still a bit of dust left behind, but it's pretty efficient. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

Grassed off neighbor said...

I am in Glendale AZ. I have desert landscaping in the front of my house and I sweep my porch and driveway almost daily. My next door neighbor has grass in the front and she uses a lawnmowing service. These guys are getting paid to clean her yard, but they use (stinky) gas blowers and they blow her debris into my yard. I have asked them repeatedly not to do this but they do it every week. What can I do about this? I have complained about the service to the BBB, but have received no reply. I contacted the City ordinance enforcement staff and they say it is a civil matter, but they are going to send an inspector to watch them because they also blow debris into the street which is in violation of county ordinance PM10.

Garden Wise Guy said...

To Grassed-off...In Santa Barbara, we have regulations that prevent anything from being blown, dumped, raked, swept into the street, since everything drains to the creeks and ocean. We're pretty hard-nosed about it, so that's one disinsentive for gardeners and homeowners to "redistribute their wealth" of dust and debris.

Also, we have the Air Pollution Control District (lots of cities have the equivalent) to deal with particulate matter being blown into the air. The last resource I can think of would be any groups working with asthma prevention and lung ailments. They might know of some regulations that give your argument a bit of "juice" with the official.

Fight the good fight; it's frustrating when you're neighbor and their gardeners are the ones on the evolutionary chart who have just started walking upright. Sometimes I wonder if we're all of the same species, despite appearances.

how to reduce water usage said...

I guess some people just dont see what they have until its completely lost. Water is probably one of the only resources given to us that we are lucky to still have.
There are arsens out there who have tried to corrupt our irrigation but havent succeeded.
In short, we need not to waste water because it is actually very precious to the human body, Very Precious..

-Sarah C.