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Let’s ban gasoline-powered cars, says California’s governor.

The federal lawsuit, filed this week by the environmental group Deep Green Resistance, seeks to protect the Colorado River — a water source for Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, and Las Vegas, among other desert-strewn metro areas.

The New York Times reports that the state of Colorado has been sued for failing to protect the river and its “right to flourish” by allowing pollution and general degradation. The plaintiff’s attorney — the plaintiff being the Colorado River — is Jason Flores-Williams, who told the New York Times that there is a fundamental disparity in rights of “entities that are using nature and nature itself.”

Those entities are primarily corporations, which have been granted human rights in major Supreme Court decisions over the past year. In the Citizens United and Hobby Lobby decisions, for example, the Supreme Court found that corporations should be afforded the human right to donate without limit to political campaigns and to refuse to comply with federal law on basis of religious freedom.

The main challenge for the river case is that a corporation is, by definition, a group of people — but hey, it’s worth a shot! Here’s a short video we made on why protecting waterways like the Colorado River is important, even for city-dwellers:

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Let’s ban gasoline-powered cars, says California’s governor.

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Do Strict Voter ID Laws Suppress Minority Voting?

Mother Jones

Do photo ID laws reduce minority turnout? Previous studies have suggested that the answer is yes, but the effect is fairly small. However, in the Washington Post last week, three scholars wrote about a new study they conducted, which offers “a more definitive assessment” than previous studies. Their conclusion: states with strict photo ID laws produce a far lower turnout among minorities than other states.

It’s taken me a while to comment on this because I had to read the report a few times to make sure I understood everything. In the end, I found several reasons to be skeptical of their conclusion.

First off, they found much stronger effects in primaries than in general elections. Now, maybe this really is the case, and I can certainly invent plausible stories about why it might be so. But it still seems odd.

Second, in a draft version of their study, they say this:

Importantly, we see no effects for Asian Americans, the one minority group that is, by at least some standards, not socioeconomically disadvantaged. The effects of these laws seem to be concentrated toward the bottom end of the racial hierarchy.

In later drafts, their numbers have been updated and it turns out that Asian Americans are affected by voter ID laws—which makes their important finding disappear. But if this was an important verification in one draft, it ought to be an important discrepancy in the final draft. However, it’s not mentioned.

Third, hardly any of their findings are statistically significant. I’m not a big stickler for 95 percent significance always and everywhere, especially for something like this, where there’s one messy set of real-life data and you have to draw conclusions from it one way or another. If the results are significant at 85 or 90 percent, that’s still strongly suggestive. Nonetheless, that’s all it is.

Fourth, the effect size on African Americans is considerably less than it is for Hispanics and Asian Americans. Maybe this is just because blacks are more politically organized, and therefore more likely to overcome the deterrent effects of photo ID laws. Maybe.

So far, none of these are deal breakers. They made me a little tentative about accepting the authors’ results, but that’s all. But then we get this:

Here’s what’s going on. On the left, you see their main results, based on a model they constructed. It shows very large effects: in states with strict photo ID laws, turnout decreases 8 percentage points among Hispanics, 2 percent among African Americans, and 5 percent among Asians.

On the right, you see the results from a second test. It compares turnout in states before and after they enacted strict photo ID laws, and it shows much smaller effects: about 2 percentage points for all minorities. This strikes me as a better test, since it eliminates lots of confounding variables that crop up when you compare one set of states to a different set. But the authors go to considerable lengths to downplay these results, for reasons that I don’t find very persuasive. Yes, their sample size is smaller, and yes, things can change from year to year. But their sample sizes aren’t that small, and the differences in a single state over the course of two years is probably smaller than the differences between states in the same year.

Maybe I’m totally off base here. I don’t have the raw data or the chops to analyze it. Still, if I had to bet money, I’d bet that the second test is more reliable, and the real effect of photo ID laws is a decreased turnout of about 2 percentage points among minorities. That’s plenty to affect a close election, and the motivation for these laws is plainly partisan and racial. They should be done away with everywhere.

That said, I continue to suspect that the effect is fairly modest.

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Do Strict Voter ID Laws Suppress Minority Voting?

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Donald Trump Rants and Raves At Press

Mother Jones

President Donald Trump intensified his attack on the media in a wild press conference Thursday, once again characterizing the press as “dishonest” in response to recent reports that have depicted an administration increasingly in turmoil. He also defended Michael Flynn, who resigned Monday as national security adviser, amid mounting evidence that he misled administration officials about his phone calls to the Russian ambassador.

“If anything, he did something right,” Trump said of Flynn. While he denied ordering Flynn to discuss easing American sanctions against Russia, he said that doing so would have been acceptable.

“Mike was doing his job, he was calling countries and his counterparts,” he said. “So it certainly would have been okay with me if he did it. I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him because that’s his job.”

Asked repeatedly if his campaign aides were in contact with Russian officials during the 2016 election campaign, Trump dodged the questions, saying only, “I had nothing to do with it.”

Trump began the press conference by announcing his second pick for labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, following Andrew Puzder’s decision to withdraw his nomination yesterday. Trump dedicated only a brief moment to discussing Acosta before he turned to his main message for the afternoon: his grievances with the press. “Many of our nation’s reporters and folks will not tell you the truth,” Trump said in his attacks against the media and the ongoing leaks. “We have to find out what’s going on because the press is honestly out of control.”

Trump complained of the “mess” he inherited from the past administration and disputed reports that the White House is in disarray. “It is the exact opposite,” he said. “This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.”

Asked how he could simultaneously complain about leaks by government officials and claim that the news reports based on them were false, Trump said, “The leaks are real. The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.”

Trump went on to complain about how he has been covered by the media, predicating that:

the media will say, “Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.” I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people. But — but I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I’m having a good time doing it. But tomorrow, the headlines are going to be, “Donald Trump rants and raves.” I’m not ranting and raving. Go ahead.

Watch the whole press conference below:

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Donald Trump Rants and Raves At Press

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Chronic Marijuana Use Is Up In Colorado

Mother Jones

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A new report from the Colorado Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee tells us that among 18-25 years olds, 13 percent report using marijuana daily or near-daily. Mark Kleiman is taken aback that this has gotten hardly any attention:

We know from other studies by Beau Kilmer and his group at RAND that daily/near-daily smokers consume about three times as much cannabis per use-day as less frequent smokers, enough to be measurably impaired (even if not subjectively stoned) for most of their waking hours….The National Survey on Drug Use and Health finds that about one-half of daily or near-daily smokers meet the diagnostic criteria for Substance Use Disorder. That’s a frightening share of users, and of the total population, to be engaging in such worrisome behavior.

….More and more people using cannabis more and more often is a trend that pre-dates legalization and is not restricted to states that have legalized….What is clear is that lower prices…make it easier for users to slip into heavy daily use. Indeed, that’s the main — some of us would say the only significant — risk of legalization. That risk could be reduced by using taxes to prevent the price collapse. So a report on the effects of legalization that neglects heavy use is like a review of the last performance of “Our American Cousin” that doesn’t mention John Wilkes Booth.

That sounds like a lot. On the other hand, if half of daily marijuana users typically have substance use disorders, that about 6.5 percent in Colorado. Here are the national figures for the past decade:

The Colorado figure is higher than than the national figure, but not hugely higher. It’s probably not a reason to panic, but it does bear watching.

The kind of people who read this blog are probably in favor of marijuana legalization—as I am—largely because they’re the kind of people who use it occasionally and don’t see a lot of harm in it. But like alcohol, there’s a certain share of the population that will fall into addiction, and that share is likely to increase as marijuana prices come down. There’s never a free lunch.

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Chronic Marijuana Use Is Up In Colorado

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Science Says This Weird Virus Could Make You Fat

Mother Jones

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It’s January, the month of new diets and gym memberships. In the spirit of starting off a brand new year, there’s no reason not to eat healthier and move around more. But if your aim is just to lose pounds, you might be on the wrong track. In her new book, The Secret Life of Fat, biochemist Sylvia Tara reveals what many dieters have suspected for a long time: There’s more to losing weight than just eating less and exercise. Tara joined us on the most recent episode of Mother Jones’ food politics podcast Bite.

The long list of factors that influence body size and shape, writes Tara, includes our genes, hormones, and bacteria in our gut. And what’s more, she notes, weight is not a great indicator of overall health (a topic I’ve written about before).

But here’s what hardly anyone talks about: Viruses, too, can lead to weight gain. In her book, Tara tells the story of a 62-year-old man named Randy who had struggled with his weight for his entire life. After being scratched by a chicken on his family’s farm at age 11, Randy’s appetite increased dramatically—and despite his intense physical work on the farm every day, he swiftly packed on the pounds. No one could explain Randy’s weight gain, and the fact that the rest of his family members were slim made it even more puzzling.

It wasn’t until decades later that Randy found a possible explanation. He went to see a pioneering endocrinologist named Dr. Richard Atkinson, who suspected that Randy had contracted a virus that was partially responsible for his extra weight—and his difficulty shedding pounds. Atkinson’s postdoctoral assistant, an Indian scientist named Nikhil Dhurandhar who had studied metabolism-changing chicken viruses, confirmed Atkinson’s suspicion with a blood test: Randy tested positive for a virus called AD-36.

Tara chronicles a fascinating series of experiments in which Atkinson and Dhurandhar showed that AD-36 changed animals’ metabolisms. When marmoset monkeys were infected with the virus, for example, their body fat increased by almost 60 percent. The team then set about studying AD-36 in humans. Here’s how Tara describes what they found:

Dhurandhar and Atkinson tested over 500 human subjects to see if they had antibodies to the AD-36 virus, indicating they had been infected with it at some point in their lives. His team found that 30 percent of subjects who were obese tested positive for AD-36, but only 11 percent of nonobese individuals did—a 3-to-1 ratio. In addition, nonobese individuals who tested positive for AD-36 were significantly heavier than those who had never been exposed to a virus. Once again, the virus was correlated with fat.

The team went on to study pairs of twins in which one tested positive for AD-36 and the other tested negative. “It turned out exactly the way we hypothesized,” Dhurandhar told Tara. “The Ad-36 positive co-twins were significantly fatter compared to their AD-36 negative counterparts.”

Whether Randy was infected with AD-36 from the chicken that had scratched him as a child—and how large of a role AD-36 played in his own struggles—is almost impossible to know. There’s no cure for AD-36, though Atkinson is hopeful that scientists will someday develop a vaccine. He believes that as many as 30 percent of obese people may be infected with the virus.

Meanwhile, Tara reports, Randy still struggles to lose weight. He eats just 1,500 calories a day; his main meal is typically a salad. Atkinson told Tara that Randy “is a remarkable person, with more discipline than anyone I have ever met.”

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Science Says This Weird Virus Could Make You Fat

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About That New Lead Study….

Mother Jones

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A new study was released recently about the effect of childhood lead poisoning on future academic performance. After reading it, I decided not to post about it, but since it’s getting some attention I should probably explain why. This will take a while, so be patient.

First things first: The basic idea here is uncontroversial. We’ve known for decades that childhood lead exposure reduces IQ, stunts academic development, and leads to lower test scores. But most of the original studies in this area were done a long time ago, when childhood lead levels were much higher than they are now. Blood lead levels are measured in micrograms per deciliter, and kids in the 70s and 80s frequently had levels as high as 20 or 30. Today that’s rare, so this paper focuses on something different: small changes in children who already had fairly low lead levels. For example, what would be the effect of a drop from 4 to 3?

To measure this, they rounded up records for nearly every third-grader in Rhode Island. These records included both blood lead levels in infancy and academic performance later in childhood, which is just what you need. The problem is that you can’t just compare those two things. It’s common knowledge that kids with high lead levels also tend to be poor, have less educated mothers, belong to minority groups, etc. Since all of these things are correlated with poor academic performance, you have to control for them somehow. It’s very difficult to do properly since you can never be entirely sure there isn’t something you haven’t overlooked.

So the authors looked at another variable unique to Rhode Island. Starting in 1997, Rhode Island required landlords to certify their rentals as lead-free. Kids who live in certified housing are likely to have lower lead levels, which means you can compare that to academic performance instead. Unfortunately, you run into the same problem: people who live in certified housing are unlikely to be a random subset. You have to control for different stuff, but you still have to run a lot of controls.

To address this, the authors used an instrumental variables approach. They constructed a remarkably complex variable that models “the probability that a child’s home was certified at the time of birth as a function of the number of certificates that had been issued in their census tract as of their year of birth, as well as family characteristics, and tract, year, and month of birth fixed effects.” After all that, though, they found only small effects:

The estimated effects of lead in these models are strongly statistically significant but relatively small: The column (4) estimates suggest that a one point increase in mean BLLs is estimated to reduce reading scores by .306, and math scores by .193.

So going from a lead level of 4 to 3 raises test scores by less than a third of a point on an 80-point scale. A 3-point reduction—which is fairly large these days—would raise test scores by about a point in reading and half a point in math.

But that’s not the end. There are two ways of measuring lead levels: venous (a standard blood draw) and finger pricks. Venous is more accurate, but finger pricks are more common. The venous measures show a stronger effect from lead exposure, so the authors constructed yet another instrumental variable to take this into account, and that produced a bigger estimate of lead on test scores: about half a point for reading and a third of a point for math.

But we’re not done yet. The authors then generate another instrumental variable, along with all the usual controls, and this produces an even bigger estimate: about one point for reading and 0.4 points for math. In both cases, however, the standard errors are quite large and the correlation coefficients are minuscule. In the case of math, the results are not statistically significant even at the 10 percent level.

This is the point at which I emphasize that I’m no expert in the design of studies like this. Controls are perfectly legit. Instrumental variables are perfectly legit—though you have to be careful not to get over-clever about them. Trying to correct for measurement problems is perfectly legit. And yet, when you put this all together it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. There are lots of controls. The main instrumental variable might be appropriate, but I couldn’t quite convince myself of that. It’s also a very complex instrument, which makes it hard to evaluate. The measurement stuff looks suspiciously like a post-hoc way of generating a bigger effect. It all feels very fragile. And even after all this, the statistical value of the results is weak.

I may be wrong about every aspect of this. It will take a real expert to go through the paper and make an informed judgment. In the meantime, though, I’d take it with a grain of salt. There’s no question that childhood lead exposure reduces academic performance, but for now I’d say I’m skeptical that the effect is as large at low levels as the authors suggest.


About That New Lead Study….

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The Band Wye Oak’s Main Attraction

Mother Jones

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Wye Oak

Courtesy of Merge Records

Jenn Wasner has one of the great voices in music today, whether she works in the folk-pop duo Wye Oak, the electro-leaning Dungeonesse, or Flock of Dimes, which spans both. Increasingly, however, she’s been blurring the stylistic lines between her projects, with the difference now seeming to be her choice of collaborators rather than the sound she achieves. Collecting tracks recorded between the previous two Wye Oak albums, Tween finds Wasner and multi-instrumentalist Andy Stack in peak form, ranging from techno-dreamy (“Out of Nowhere”) to epic and muscular (“If You Should See”) to sleek and breezy (“Watching the Waiting”). As always, Wasner’s evocative singing is the main attraction. She balances stoic melancholy and hopeful resilience beautifully, and her deft vocal overdubs are breathtaking. Next, keep an eye out for a Flock of Dimes album, due in late September.

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The Band Wye Oak’s Main Attraction

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Clinton’s army of energy advisers towers over Trump’s

Clinton’s army of energy advisers towers over Trump’s

By on Aug 12, 2016 12:05 pmShare

Hillary Clinton did not talk much about climate change and energy in her big economic policy speech on Thursday, but she has a huge team working behind the scenes on environmental policy.

Politico reports that the Clinton campaign has nearly 100 advisors on climate, energy, and the environment — many of them informal and unpaid — who have produced recommendations on “everything from chemical safety and Everglades restoration to nuclear power and climate finance.”

The Clinton climate camp is drawn largely from the ranks of her husband’s and President Obama’s administrations — a sign she’ll pick up where Obama left off. Her advisers include former Obama climate advisers Heather Zichal, Jody Freeman and Paul Bodnar, as well as Clinton-era EPA administrator Carol Browner. At the very top sits campaign chairman John Podesta, who worked on climate and energy policy in the Obama White House.

Clinton’s selection of advisers “contrasts sharply with Trump’s campaign, which is relying on just a few outside experts such as Oklahoma oilman Harold Hamm to help chart his energy agenda,” writes Politico’s Andrew Restuccia. Trump’s other main energy advisers include Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and Andrew Wheeler, a former staffer for Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and vice-president of the Washington Coal Club, a group of coal industry lobbyists.

If Trump wins, some of those pro-fossil fuel voices are likely to end up in his cabinet.

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Clinton’s army of energy advisers towers over Trump’s

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6 ways the Rio Olympics are failing on sustainability

Game of groans

6 ways the Rio Olympics are failing on sustainability

By on Aug 5, 2016Share

Brazil wooed the International Olympic Committee with promises of sustainability when it made its bid in 2009 for Rio to host the games, but it hasn’t followed through on those pledges. From waters teeming with pathogens to transportation troubles, the Rio Olympics are looking like a hot mess. Of course, lots of past Olympics looked disastrous just before they kicked off too.

1. There’s something in the water

Athletes have been advised to keep their mouths closed when swimming or sailing, as Olympic waters have been found to have virus levels 1.7 million times higher that what would be considered worrisome in the U.S. Rio constructed barriers to keep trash out of the main areas where events are being held, but that won’t stop the sewage and pathogens from floating in (though they might stop body parts from washing ashore).

2. A transportation nightmare

Rio’s traffic is so bad (it’s the fourth most congested city in the world) that members of the International Olympic Committee are already regretting the decision to hold the games there. A $3 billion subway extension was massively delayed and has just barely opened. And earlier this year, a new bike path constructed for the games collapsed, raising safety concerns.

3. Scary diseases

Even though Zika infection rates are slowing down because it’s winter in Brazil, there are plenty of diseases and illnesses to worry about, including dengue fever, rotavirus, norovirus, and hepatitis A. Oh, and as if that’s not already enough, drug-resistant superbacteria.

4. Injustice to residents

An estimated 77,000 people have been evicted from their homes to make way for infrastructure for the games, and entire neighborhoods have been bulldozed.

5. Clashes with critters

The controversial Olympics golf course was built in a sensitive coastal area, and environmentalists say it destroyed habitat and harmed native plants and animals, including endangered species. But it didn’t drive all the animals away: The golf course is still teeming with wildlife like capybaras, sloths, boa constrictors, and miniature crocodiles, so organizers have hired five handlers to keep potentially dangerous critters away from players during game time.

6. Shoddy construction

The Olympics require a vast amount of construction in a short amount of time, and that’s led to buildings that aren’t up to code. Haphazard construction has already caused gas leaks, a small fire, and plumbing mishaps in the Olympic Village. Conditions have prompted some athletes to stay in hotels or luxury cruise ships instead.

Most Brazilians think the 2016 Olympics will do more harm than good. Judging by what we’ve seen so far, the average Brazilian citizen just might be smarter than the Olympic organizers.

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6 ways the Rio Olympics are failing on sustainability

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How Much Do You Actually Have to Water Your Plants?

Efficient watering practices can save you a lot of time and money, as well as preserving our planets resources. A bit of planning and a good understanding of your soil will help your plants thrive on less water.

What kind of soil do you have?

The main components of soil are sand, clay and organic matter. A good balance will give you a crumbly, easy-to-dig soil that takes up water easily.

Dig a few small holes around your yard to see your soils structure. A soil with too much sand is grainy and drains very quickly. Sandy soils benefit from adding lots of organic matter to hold in the water.

Clay soils can feel like concrete when theyre dry and will absorb water very slowly. Once clay soil is wet, it can become dense and oversaturated with very little oxygen or space for plant roots. Adding gypsum (calcium sulphate), sand or organic matter will help break up clay soils.

For containers, its best to use commercial potting mixes based on peat moss or coconut fiber. Both of these are organic materials that hold water well and are still light enough for pots and hanging baskets. Soil straight from your garden is usually too heavy.

How to Judge When Your Plants Need Water

1. Container Plants

Lift up your containers or hanging baskets when possible to gauge their water content. If theyre too large to lift, use your finger or a soil probe to check how far down the pot has dried out. Its time to water when the container is dry about half way down.

Add water until it comes out the bottom of the pot. Check back in 5 to 10 minutes to see if the water absorbed. If the container still feels dry, keep adding water in small doses until the soil is saturated.

2. Outdoor Areas

The roots of perennial plants, shrubs and trees generally grow in the top 12 inches (30 centimeters) of soil. The roots of lawns and annual plants, including most vegetables, are typically in the top 6 inches (15 centimeters) of soil.

These are the depths youll need to water to for each type of plant. The actual amount of water you need to apply will vary depending on your soil structure.

When you water an area for the first time, use your finger or a shovel to check the soil every few minutes and see how far down the water has penetrated. Take note of how long it took to reach the needed depth.

Continue to monitor your soil and keep track of how long it takes to dry out again. Drought-tolerant plants will be able to handle drying out to the bottom of their root zone. Whereas, plants with higher water needs should only dry out to around half the depth of their root zone.

This will give you a basic idea of how long you should water each area of your garden and how often.

The last step is to make sure your watering system is as efficient as possible. Try the following tips to get started.

How to Reduce the Amount You Water

Water at cooler times of day. You can lose a lot of water to evaporation when its hot. Morning is often the best time to water because its the coolest time of day. You can also set your automatic irrigation system to run during the night.

Dont panic. Its normal for some of your plants to wilt in the mid-afternoon sun to conserve water. Wait until the sun goes down to check whether or not the wilt is permanent. If your plants dont perk up again by morning, its time to water.

Choose drought-tolerant plants when possible. Many varieties of ornamental annual and perennial plants do well with limited water. You can also get lawn seed mixes designed for dryer conditions.

Group plants by water needs. This can make watering much easier. For instance, you can group drought-tolerant plants together in a difficult-to-access corner of your yard, or plant your most water-demanding veggies at the front of your beds near a hose.

Have a flexible watering schedule. Take advantage of cooler weather periods to reduce how often you water. Also keep in mind that young seedlings or new plantings will have smaller root systems than when mature. These will need shallower, more frequent irrigation until they get established.

Water slowly. Too much water at one time will simply run out of a container or off the soil surface in garden beds. When watering by hand, go over a container or outdoor area a few times rather than trying to do it all at once. Or look for an automatic irrigation system that can deliver smaller amounts of water over longer periods of time.

Make use of technology. Many automatic irrigation systems can make watering more efficient, such as drip irrigation, soaker hoses or overhead sprinklers. Automatic timers are also very useful. You can get simple timers that are battery powered or more complicated systems that are wired into your house.

Track your water. A general recommendation is to apply 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 centimeters) of water to your garden per week. This is easiest to track with automatic irrigation systems that deliver set amounts of water. You can also check hand watering by attaching a flow meter to the hose spigot. About 60 gallons (227 liters) will provide 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) of water over 100 square feet (9 square meters).

Keep your ground covered. A layer of mulch, ground cloth or rocks will help stop evaporation from the soil and keep it moist. Planting a living ground cover is another great option.

Focus on the roots. Water should be applied as close to the root zone as possible. Water left on the leaves is often lost through evaporation. It can also cause sun damage on a hot day or promote leaf diseases. Try to get underneath the plants when youre hand watering, or choose drip irrigation systems instead of overhead sprayers.

12 Ways to Get Rid of Aggressive Weeds Without Resorting to Roundup
5 Surprising Animals You Didnt Realize Were Pollinators
How to Use Food Scraps to Control Pests and Help Your Garden Thrive

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.


How Much Do You Actually Have to Water Your Plants?

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