By Maureen Neeley
If you’ve been in California for at least 50 years you remember sporadic years of drought. Who can forget the mantra of the ‘70s, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down?” Bricks were de rigueur for Northern California toilet tanks. Orange County lawns were *gasp* brown and dying. But to be honest, it seemed cyclical. Countered by flooding and a healthy snowpack, it all evened out, right.? Not only that, old-timers suspected that drought and floods were just reality in this state.
But this is different. How and why?
To put it bluntly, the past year has been the driest or second driest in most Southwestern states since record-keeping began in 1895. Farms and cities have begun imposing water restrictions, but Western states are facing a threat that goes deeper than a single bad year. The hotter climate is shrinking water supplies, no matter what the weather brings. According to a June 9, 2021 NPR podcast, “Warming temperatures make it less likely for a raindrop or snowflake to reach a reservoir due to increased evaporation. As a result, the people who manage the West’s complex water systems are realizing that with climate change, they can no longer rely on the past to predict the future.”
According to a July 28, 2021 article by Paul Rogers, Natural Resources and Environment Reporter for the Bay Area News Group, “In the Northern Sierra (California’s most important watershed because it normally fills the state’s major reservoirs), the past two years have been the second driest two-year period since records began in 1921, delivering only 52% of normal precipitation. The only time in the past 100 years when it was drier was during the famous drought of 1975-77. 85% of California is in extreme drought, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and NOAA.”
What’s the situation locally?
Roughly 60 percent of the Long Beach water supply is local groundwater with the balance imported from the Colorado River, via the 242-mile Colorado River Aqueduct and Northern California’s Bay-Delta region, via the 441-mile California Aqueduct.
The Lake Mead reservoir, which feeds our Colorado River Aqueduct through Parker Dam, has fallen to its lowest levels since the Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s. It is at just 35% of full capacity.
Long Beach has its own municipal water company which reports that residential usage is just slightly higher than it was in 2015. We’re doing decently on conservation, but state mandates may be around the corner, so saving water now will help not just Long Beach but all of California. Have you adjusted your irrigation schedule? From October 1 through March 31, irrigation watering is allowed on Tuesdays and Saturdays only, before 9am or after 4pm., and no watering during or within 48 hours of rainfall.
How much can YOU save?
Wasting water is just plain unnecessary. And it will soon become more costly as rates are slated to increase. It’s actually pretty easy and fun to see how much water your household can save. Track your progress via the LiveH2O website [https://liveh2olb.com/]. Consider a friendly competition with your neighbors or extended family. Share your stories with us at the BHCA. Here are a few:
Debbie: Consciousness is Key
“I’ve been obsessed with water since 1977 when I was in San Francisco and saw the desperation to save water. It changed my mindset. It’s a limited resource, not a birthright,” recalled Debbie. “I envision carrying 5 gallons of water for 5 miles. Much of the world does this. It makes me judicious about not wasting this precious resource.” Debbie has reduced her usage by 55%. It’s become a habit to turn the water off in-between soaping up and rinsing off. The same method can be used when doing dishes. No more than a quarter cup of water is necessary for brushing teeth.
Fran: The Red Bucket
“The ubiquitous red buckets are in our showers,” noted Fran. “It’s easy to capture that perfectly good water and use it to water our plants, fill up a patio fountain, or even flush the toilet. If I can’t use it right away, I’ll pour it into a couple of watering cans and set them near the patio pots. Honestly, the plants are looking better than ever because they are getting watered more regularly.” That clean shower water can even partially fill a top-loading washing machine or flush the toilet. If she’s collected too much water, it is better to recirculate that into the ground water table than to pour it down the drain.
Tara and Peter: Everything But the Kitchen Sink … Drain
Tara and Peter are transplants from rainy locations, but they have adapted to Southern California’s water-starved geography like … ducks to water (pun intended).
“Our kitchen sink has a bowl to catch ‘gray water’ which is relatively clean water from washing hands, leftover drinking water, or the ‘waiting-to-warm-up’ runoff. Having that bowl full of fairly clean water nearby becomes our rinsing water for dishwasher bound dishes.”
None of these water-saving efforts are hard, but if every household takes these small steps, our community will make big strides in maintaining our precious water supply.
As Debbie says, “We just need to think about water all the time.”