State’s drought will be felt during hottest months
Summer is officially here and Angelenos, as well as Californians in general, will have to face it with less water than in previous years. Less water, specifically due to new regulations laid out by Governor Jerry Brown earlier this spring but also, less water due to actual less water.
California is now in the fourth year of a severe drought. Definitions of drought can vary depending on where in the world you are located, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center based in Nebraska. Generally speaking, the Center’s website says a drought is a naturally occurring phenomenon that “originates from a deficiency of precipitation over an extended period of time – usually a season or more – resulting in a water shortage for some activity, group, or environmental sector.”
Low/below average rainfall for four years in a row here in California, and low snowfall in areas of the state with higher altitudes, has meant less runoff water going into the reservoirs around the state, creating the water shortage that we now find ourselves with. “Looking at history, prolonged serious droughts are a naturally recurring part of the west’s climate, says Matthew Heberger, a researcher with the Oakland, CA-based Pacific Institute, which promotes water conservation and efficiency. “It’s to be expected. That’s on the one hand,” said Hebeger.
“On the other hand, we’re dealing with climate change, which may also be a factor. “Last year was one of the hottest on record,” Hebeger continued. The result of that increased heat has been increased evaporation and depleted soil moisture. “That’s what our crops need to grow. Green grass, moisture in the soil for grass and plants to grow,” Hebeger said.
Under normal circumstances, snow in the Sierra Nevada area of California would be melting during this time of year and thus enter the groundwater and reservoirs of the state.
California’s agricultural sector which not only feeds us but most of the rest of the country – farms and ranches located primarily in the Central Valley area of the state nicknamed the nation’s “breadbasket” – have been hit hard. Many cattle, dairy and fruit/vegetable farms, which consistently use about 80 percent of the state’s water to grow food and feed livestock, have had to curtail or stop operations altogether, letting workers go and their fields turn to wastelands.
For the rest of us – homeowners and renters in South Los Angeles for example – the 25 percent reduction in water use mandated for cities and towns by Gov. Brown realistically translates into spending less time in the shower; not running the faucet as you brush your teeth, and sacrificing the pride and joy that comes from washing and detailing your car at home or having the greenest lawn on the block.
Conservation of water is the most popular remedy in times such as these but what other choices are available to Californians?
It seems almost ironic that California, stuck in the midst of a severe drought, sits next to the largest body of water on earth: the Pacific Ocean. Covering about 64 million square miles, the Pacific sits between four continents and, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it covers one third of planet earth and contains half of the free water on the planet. So … why won’t that solve our water problem?
The problem, in a nutshell, is that in order for the salt water of the Pacific Ocean to become drinkable (also known as “potable”) the salt has to be taken out. And that, says Heberger, is an extremely expensive process.
“The cost of the land [for a treatment facility], building it on the coast … coastal real estate is really expensive. Then you have to have the infrastructure to maintain the facility, and that will cost millions.”
After that, the next part of the equation would be the actual process of desalination. “The process is one of reverse osmosis,” said Hebeger. “There’s a thin polymer/plastic membrane, and water is pushed thru at high speed, high pressure, which takes a lot of energy and electricity to pump it, and the water comes thru and the salt crystals stay on other side.”
In Carlsbad, CA, Hebeger notes that a desalination plant is currently under construction that will handle 50 million gallons of water per day. Although it is currently the biggest desalination plant in the state, it will only supply a fraction of the water needs of the city of San Diego. That’s just one city in the entire state.
Well water remains a viable option in many parts of the state, but less so for the majority of Angelenos. And California can continue to utilize water from the Colorado River, which it has been doing for the past 50 years, but that water will come through (literally) the Department of Water and Power.
For homeowners who cannot live without a well-maintained and vibrant green lawn, catching rain water may be an option. Hebeger of the Pacific Institute however notes that since rainfall in the state has been so short it would take a large amount for landscaping needs.
Rain water, unfortunately, is not suggested for drinking, bathing or food preparation.
Hebeger also mentioned gray water: water that is collected/routed from a shower, bathtub or sinks, could also be recycled and used for watering gardens. “It was a quasi-legal gray area – no pun intended – up until a few years ago, but a law has been passed for homeowners to install their own gray water systems. But you have to be careful in terms of the soaps you use.”
Sentinel / L.A. Watts Times readers can find more information about water conservation and efficiency on the Pacific Institute’s website at www.pacinst.org.