Thirsty trees suck desert dry

Adult tamarisk trees can drink up to 200 gallons per day

Thirsty trees suck desert dry

THOUSAND PALMS, Calif. - For decades the salt cedar, or tamarisk tree, has been planted alongside highways and rail ways across the Southwestern United States.

"They are mainly used as a safety measure for our roads, they block winds that blow sand, so they prevent sand from blowing on the highways," said Steven Magallanes, district landscape architect for Caltrans.

Tamarisk trees can grow up to 30 feet tall and use 200 gallons of water per day.

Numerous government websites show these trees were brought in from Europe and North Africa. Now this invasive plant has spread to parts all over the country, to the point where it's taking over native trees.

The roots run very deep, and have been know to lower ground water levels in some areas.

Caltrans takes care of many salt cedars in the Coachella Valley, and they are finding ways to cut back on watering them.

"We have installed about 1,200 smart sprinkle systems on our landscape for our irrigation use, you have to keep in mind Caltrans is responsible for about 22,000 football fields of landscape so that's a lot that we have to water," said Joy Schneider, Caltrans public information officer.

Some of the healthiest looking tamarisk trees in the valley run along the Union Pacific rail line.

KESQ found a water line running hundreds of feet long, shooting water into trees for well over a half an hour. Algae can be seen growing on the side of one of the trees. We did a test, and found out of one of these holes shoots out a gallon of water every two minutes. There are hundreds, if not thousands of these holes running the length of the rail line in the Coachella Valley.

Franciso Castillo, director of media relations for Union Pacific, told KESQ over the phone that Union Pacific uses drip irrigation and it shouldn't be shooting out large streams of water.

He also said Union Pacific has stopped watering trees that are near physical barriers and don't need to be wind breaks.

Both Caltrans and Union Pacific use well water for the tamarisk trees so they're not regulated by any municipal water agencies.

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