On the Utah State University campus in Moab, grasses and pollinator plants grow beneath apple and cherry trees.*

It’s a lush garden in a place that only gets about 9.5 inches of rain a year. But it does not require heavy irrigation.

“I can say that over the last three years in Moab, we have watered our gardens – the permaculture gardens on campus – less than 10 times,” says Roslynn McCann, the university’s sustainable communities extension specialist. 

She says the garden was designed to make the most of rainwater when it does fall.

Water is channeled into the garden from rooftops and parking lots through gutters and curb cuts. It soaks into a layer of mulch that retains moisture and allows it to seep slowly into the soil. Some rain is also collected in cisterns for watering during dry spells.

The region is getting even drier as the climate warms. So McCann says it will be increasingly important to design landscapes with water conservation and re-use in mind.

“The fact that we’re getting cherries and apples and plums, currants, all sorts of amazing edibles in an area – primarily rainwater fed – with only nine-and-a-half inches, that’s climate resilience right there,” she says.

Also see: Climate change and droughts: What’s the connection?

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media

*This sentence was updated July 25, 2022, to correct the name of the university.