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  • Is the California Drought Really Making Headway?

    California is known for its stunning beaches, beautiful parks, and blistering drought.

    California Drought Monitor Aug 4, 2015But things have been much worse for California’s drought. Just last year, the majority of the state was either in exceptional or extreme drought (as seen here as the two shades of red). There was only a small sliver down in the southeast of the state that was just abnormally dry (yellow). The rest of the state was in at least some form of drought, much of it severe or worse. Things certainly were bad back then. But has it improved, or has it become even worse? Let's look at the current drought monitor.

    California Drought Monitor Aug 2, 2016As of August 4, 2016, there’s a lot more yellow, which is a good sign. Yellow means it’s just abnormally dry, not technically in drought conditions. A fair portion of the reds have turned orange or beige, signaling the extreme and exceptional drought conditions are dwindling.

    Yes, there is still quite a bit of exceptional drought in California, but by the looks of things, it is slowly dispersing. That being said, it’s nothing to celebrate. At least, not yet.

    Since Californians have done an excellent job at conserving water – they cut back water usage by 27.5% in June 2015 as compared with the 2013 baseline – many municipalities are lifting water restrictions. An article in the East Bay Times showed concern from water program director at the Pacific Institute, Heather Cooley. She said that today’s number of saved water is strong. However, Cooley has other concerns.

    “I’m concerned about the next several months and years,” she said. “The water we save now is water we can use later if we don’t get rains next winter.” She warned that caution should be exercised.

    As the drought monitor from August 2, 2016 suggests, there is still a fair amount of drought afflicting the Golden State, and there will undoubtedly still be quite some time yet before the drought is gone.

    Whether lifting much of the water restrictions in California is a good idea or not remains to be seen. However, it does look like there is still room for precautions. Just because the disaster is becoming less severe doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to stop being cautious – and this goes for all disasters. Just because the threat is subsiding doesn’t mean the threat is gone entirely.

    But, perhaps local officials know better. Whatever their source of knowledge, you can still do your part to save water and ultimately be prepared.

     

    Drought  monitor

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  • Learning to Conserve Water Now Helps Prepare You For Drought

    In 1979’s The Muppet Movie, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew showed off one of the most brilliant water-saving devices ever devised: a “musical rotating rain barrel.” Think of it: simultaneous conservation and outdoor entertainment.

    The western ghost town where he’d set up shop was a good place for it. Of the ten states with the highest per capita water use, nine are in the west. The main reason: landscape irrigation. In western states, which see less rainfall, residential water use averages almost 130 gallons per person per day. In the rest of the United States, residential water use averages about 89 gallons per person per day.

    So, in the west, the easiest way to conserve water is to water less. Lawns only need about a half inch of water per week and less in the autumn and winter. If water’s running down the gutter, you’re using too much. Ready.gov has more tips for landscape watering, including planting drought-tolerant plants and grouping plants together based on how much water they use.

     

    Conserve Water - via American Water Works Association Research Foundation

     

    A dripping tap showing water being wasted - conserve water

    The next-easiest way to reduce water use is to repair leaks.

    “One drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year,” ready.gov said.

    Often, the repair is as easy as replacing a washer in the faucet. Also check plumbing for leaks and have a plumber repair them.

    The next step to reduce water use is to monitor indoor water use. The average family uses more than 300 gallons of water per day, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. About 70 percent is used indoors.

    The largest indoor uses are flushing the toilet and bathing, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Most new toilets use 1.6 gallons per flush. Older models use about 4 gallons. Either model uses more if it leaks. If you hear water running between flushes, check for a leak. It may be as simple as a loose-fitting stopper in the tank, a truly easy fix. My husband, who is not at all mechanically inclined, recently replaced the stopper in our toilet. It took him about 20 minutes and cost less than $12.

    Faucet - conserve waterLook closely on a faucet or shower head. It will say a number, like 1.0 gpm or 1.5 gpm. That’s the maximum flow – 1 gallon per minute, for example.

    Old show heads allow flow of up to 5 gallons of water per minute. Water-saving shower heads use about 2 gallons per minute, according to the USGS. To save water, replace old shower heads with water-saving ones and take a shorter shower. Also, a full tub of water averages about 36 gallons of water, so take a shower instead of a bath.

    If you have a dishwasher, use it. New dishwashers use 6 gallons of water per cycle, while old ones use 16 gallons. But hand washing dishes uses between 8 and 27 gallons of water, according to the USGS. Either way, scrape food off dishes into the trash. Kitchen sink disposals use a lot of water to run correctly.

    Run full clothes washer loads. Even new, efficient washers use 25 gallons per load. An older washer might use 40 gallons per load.

    The United Nations estimates that in 15 years, at the current rate of usage, the world’s fresh water supply could be 40 percent less than what people need. Parts of the U.S., especially in the west, are in drought now. Others, like Flint, Mich., must deal with human-caused water shortages. The best way to prepare for water shortages is to conserve water beforehand, said ready.gov.

    “If we plan for drought, then we can enjoy the benefits of normal or rainy years and not get caught unprepared in dry years,” the site said.

     

    Drought conserve water

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  • Thanks for the Rain, Pineapple Express! (Got any more?)

    Finally. After an unexpectedly warm, dry February, the Pineapple Express has dumped enough rain and snow on northern California to bring reservoirs there up to average levels – the first time they’ve been that high since the drought began.

    Drought Monitor Released Thursday March 17, 2016 - Pineapple Express Drought Monitor - Released Thursday March 17, 2016

    This doesn’t mean the end of the state’s drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor’s latest report shows 55 percent of the state is still in extreme or exceptional drought. Groundwater is a major concern too. The state’s underground aquifers, which have been building their supply for hundreds or thousands of years, are being depleted far faster than they can be refurbished. Some of them have caved in and will never recover.

    The good news is the drought has been a wake-up call for the need to better manage water use.

    Here’s how some people are trying to save water.

    In California’s Central Valley, where a huge percentage of the food the U.S. eats is grown, declining aquifers have become a health hazard. Shallow municipal wells have gone dry as large agricultural companies draw down groundwater from deeper wells. This has left residents without water, or with polluted water.

    One problem is, when a lot of rain falls, the area doesn’t have enough surface storage, like reservoirs, to keep it, according to a story in the Christian Science Monitor. According to the story, George Goshgarian, an almond farmer in the San Joaquin Valley, is trying something new: flooding his almond orchards during the winter rainy season when his trees are dormant and don’t need the water.

    The idea is, the water will soak into the ground and hopefully some will trickle into the aquifer below. If he’s careful, the flooding shouldn’t hurt the trees because they are dormant. Then, during the drier growing season, the ground will have more moisture. And the aquifer below will have a bit more water.

    According to a study for the California Water Foundation that was cited in the story, groundwater in the southern San Joaquin is being depleted at a rate of 250,000 acre-feet per year on average. Using the rainy season’s runoff could reduce that amount between a third and a half, the study estimated.

    Homeowners and municipalities are also trying to figure out how to use rainwater runoff. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power last August presented a plan to capture more rainwater for the city.

    According to Andy Lipkis, president of Tree People, which advocates for sustainable urban water use, an inch of rain falling on Los Angeles represents 7.6 billion gallons of water. Half that runs off into the ocean, he said in a story in the Christian Science Monitor.

    The utility’s master plan suggests projects to capture water that range in size from major basins to individuals’ yards.

    Drip Irrigation - Pineapple ExpressThe yard of Carrie Wassenaar of North Hollywood, Calif., is a case study in how water catching works. As described in the Christian Science Monitor, her yard has drought-tolerant plants watered by a drip-irrigation system that uses rainwater. A depression in the yard allows water to pool and seep down to the aquifer below. The water comes from an above-ground cistern that collects rainfall from her roof.

    “You want to feel like you're at least trying to help with the solution instead of just contributing to the problem,” she said in the story.

    Ready.gov says the best way to prepare for a drought is to use less water beforehand. Here are some tips from ready.gov for saving water inside the home.

    Replace washers in dripping faucets and repair pipe leaks.

    “One drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year,” ready.gov said.

    Insulate water pipes. This will reduce heat loss, which means it’ll take less time to heat water from the tap.

    Install low-flow appliances, toilets, and shower heads. Some water districts will offer rebates to offset the cost.

    Instead of rinsing dishes and using the disposal, scrape dishes into the trash or compost.

    Lawns - Pineapple ExpressOutside, reduce the lawn and put in plants adapted to your climate. According to a study, lawns cover an estimated 50,000 square miles of the country. That makes lawns the biggest crop in America. And you can’t even eat them.

    Don’t water too much. Lawns only need about a half inch of water per week and less in the autumn and winter. If water’s running down the gutter, you’re using too much.

    Consider using grey water for outdoor watering. For information about installing a rain catching system, check out the web site for the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association.

    Be aware of regulations when considering water-saving tools. California offered homeowners tax-free rebates of up to $2,000 to help homeowners pay for water-efficient yards. As of February, the state had spent $22 million in rebates. Unfortunately, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service is taxing those rebates as income.

     

    Drought Preparedness - Pineapple Express

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