Water Management in CA During Drought Has Much to Teach Us

Posted in: Crisis Response, Drought, United States Water News, Water Conservation, Water Crisis
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Photo credit: Environmental Leader

Article courtesy of Environmental Leader | January 7, 2015 | Environmental Leader | Shared as educational material

It is very important that we, as a nation, continue to monitor the drought situation in California and how the state deals with it.  And fortunately, there is some good news about water management to report. Unfortunately, there is some bad news as well.

First, as most of us know, the state has recorded some significant rainfall in the past couple of months.  Further, measurements of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides water for a large portion of California, showed more snow than it did last year at this time, according to recent measurements.  For instance, at one measurement station near Sacramento, more than 21 inches of snow were recorded.  This time last year, there was only 9.3 inches measured at this station.

The snowpack is very important because while rainfall helps replenish current water supplies—and provide badly needed moisture for landscaping and vegetation—it is the melting of the snowpack in spring and summer that provides the bulk of the state’s water throughout the year.  However, according to Mark Cowin, California’s Department of Water Resources Director, “Although this year’s survey shows a deeper snowpack than last year, California needs much more rain and snow than we’ve experienced over the past two years to end the drought.”

He reached this conclusion because as of the first of this year, snowpack measurements are less than half of what is normally recorded at this time of year.  Further, another spokesperson for the state’s Department of Water Resources says that while there is more snow, “the snow isn’t as wet as we’d like.” Wet snow has higher liquid content, resulting in more water.  Plus, “there’s just not enough snow to give us confidence that we’re [going to have] an exceptionally wet year [in 2015],” said the spokesperson.

The bottom line, according to Matt Stevens, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, is “a sizable snowpack [far more than we have received so far] will be necessary to keep reservoirs filled when temperatures rise and rain becomes scarce. Recent storms, though, have brought some hope for relief.”

That’s the good news and the bad news in a nutshell. But, after four years of drought, the bigger issue is while things are looking up, at least for the moment, why has the current drought not had more impact on the state’s 35 million residents along with its mega economy?  While there are some restrictions in place, and more to be implemented in 2015, these conservation efforts have had less impact on Californians today compared to previous restrictions placed on residents during past droughts.  Even with approximately 15 million fewer people living in the state compared to today’s estimated population, residents were asked to cut their water consumption essentially in half in order to endure previous droughts.

The answer, which the entire country can learn from, is the result of the following three factors:

Better water management.  Decades ago after previous droughts, as soon as there was ample rainfall, and drought conditions ended, consumers as well as state administrators forgot about their water problems and began using water as if there would never be another drought.  Now administrators know droughts are part of the California landscape and have developed infrastructure and systems to better ride out dry periods.  Plus, the state’s many water districts now work together to address water shortages.  Whereas in the past if one county was water short, it was viewed as their problem.  Today, if one county is having a water shortage, it is viewed as a state problem and surrounding water districts are brought in to help deal with the shortage.

Consumer awareness.  People who have lived in California for many years know it was common to see their neighbors hosing down sidewalks and driveways; they would also watch water run down streets from lawn sprinklers and see irrigation of lawns and landscaping even while it was raining.  Now consumers are much more conscious of how they use water.  They not only use water more responsibly, but they also use it more efficiently.

New technologies.  In the late 1970s, when the state endured a drought as bad as the one today, toilets typically used more than three gallons of water per flush and urinals, depending on their age, used just about as much if not more.  This has been cut in half, due to new technologies, and many of the state’s schools, offices, sports arenas, fairgrounds, and hotels have installed waterless urinals, so no water is used at all.  Additionally, programs such as the EPA’s WaterSense, have encouraged manufacturers of all water using products—from washing machines to irrigation systems—to design equipment that uses less water and uses it more efficiently.

No one knows at this time how much snow and rainfall California will receive in 2015.  But, what we do know as supported by the above factors is that the state is better prepared to deal with the situation today.  And, because it appears serious droughts can and likely will happen in more parts of the US in coming years, we should all pay attention to what is happening in California.  This is an opportunity for the entire country to learn ways to protect water, our most valuable resource, and use it more efficiently.


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