Change Your Water Ways, California

Low water at Briones Regional Park  photo by Amanda Braitman ‘15

Low water at Briones Regional Park
photo by Amanda Braitman ‘15

Drought. Both California and Nevada are facing extreme conditions. San Francisco’s precipitation level has dropped 58% from previous years, Lake Shasta’s total capacity  has dropped 17% from previous years, the San Luis Reservoir is currently only 17% full,and the Sierra Nevada snowpack is currently only 18% of the yearly average in the past.

The severity of the drought demands Californians to confront the impact of our limited water resources and reflect on how we use our precious water supply.

According to the California Water Awareness Campaign, an organization aimed to help Californians save water, “If the drought continues, California will only have enough water in storage to last another year and a half unless water usage is reduced.”

Although San Franciscans already use much less water than other residents in the state, still on an average day 98 gallons of water is used per capita. In Palm Springs an average of up to 736 gallons of water is used per day per capita.  279 and 166 gallons of water are used on an average day per capita in Sacramento and San Diego, respectively.

But 98 gallons a day per capita in San Francisco still puts dangerous demands on the state’s seriously low water supply. San Franciscans are still considered to be using a lot of water because basic necessities use up a lot of water. But why? Because we have come to luxuriate in water. We take our daily water-intensive activities for granted. We have come to believe that under all circumstances we will still have water when we turn on our bathroom faucets, take daily showers, wash dishes and water gardens.Our daily activities gulp water. A bathroom faucet can run 2 gallons of water per minute; standard shower heads use 2.5 gallons of water per minute; water sprinklers can use up to 4 gallons of water per minute; and standard toilets use 2 gallons of water per flush.

What has happened to the state’s water supply? We are unable to find a balance between the amount of water we have and the amount of water we use. California has three main water sources: the Colorado River, which channels water from the Colorado Water Basin, runoff from the Sierra Nevada and other high mountain ranges, and rainfall. San Francisco’s precious Hetch Hetchy reservoir is filled with snowmelt in the Sierra and rainfall. Because of the drought and the changing climate, the amount of water California receives from each of these water sources is progressively lessening. This year was the driest year ever recorded in California.

Lake Oroville faces intense conditions of the drought  photo courtesy of The Department of Water Resources

Lake Oroville faces intense conditions of the drought
photo courtesy of The Department of Water Resources

While other western states like the Rocky Mountain States are dry, they often, if not always, receive summer monsoon rains. Unlike other states, California gets the majority of its rainfall during the winter and nearly none in the summer. If a local reservoir is to be replenished, it has to happen in the winter months.

By summer, the water supply is reduced significantly, which pushes California to import more water, and importation is becoming less feasible. The lack of storage units makes it difficult to take advantage of imported water.

Climate change has also been detrimental to California water supplies as it causes less precipitation, both rainfall and snowfall. Less precipitation means that less water filters down into the ground to renew our rapidly depleting aquifers. Underground aquifers are the earth’s underground water storage system. Moreover, less snowpack and precipitation means that there is less flowing water on the surface to fill natural and man-made lakes, our surface storage areas. Climate change also causes the snowpack to melt sooner, shortening the snowmelt runoff period for our streams and lakes.

Climate change has also decreased California’s out-of-state water supply. The Colorado Water Basin is affected by climate change and the drought, so California is getting less water from this system. What water is flowing in the system has to be parceled out among nine clients. The Basin supplies water not only to California, but also to seven other U.S. states and parts of Mexico. In the last four and a half years, the water supplied by the system has fallen by 25 million gallons of water in total.

Another reason California’s water supply is dwindling so quickly is that the growing population increases   demand. Just within a year California’s population grew by more than 332,000 people. This growth results in approximately 16 million additional gallons of water used per day.

If California doesn’t cut down on their water usage, we’ll run out of water within the next year and a half. Water usage statewide has increased by 1% over the last three years, but Californians need to cut their water usage by 20% in order to make it through the drought.

While those of us living in San Francisco might not have noticed the effect of the drought, many residents in other parts of the state have had to face this reality. Most of those who live in California’s Central Valley are either completely out of water in their homes or are very close it.

Those families who rely on household wells as their water source are in danger; many household and small farm wells are already dry. Those who had wells dug when California’s ground water was closer to the surface are out of luck. Drilling a deeper well, if feasible, will cost at least $3,000 or more per well.

In addition, agricorps, businesses that engage in corporate farming, have been ground-water mining to irrigate their own tens of thousands of acres of crops and to sell for a large profit. They drill progressively deeper and deeper wells, sucking out underground resources, and seriously lowering the water table and depleting the remaining supply of underground water. Smalls farms and households that rely on shallower wells have lost their water supply.

Elva Beltran, director of

the Porterville Area Coordinating Council, reported that “Ten or twelve new families are coming in every day, some have been without water for three to four months. Currently, hundreds of people in the Porterville area alone rely on bottled water to survive.”

Although it may not seem so, everyone in the United States is affected by the drought. California supplies 99% of the nation’s almonds, 95% of its broccoli, 90% of its tomatoes and 75% of its lettuce along with many other foods such as walnuts, strawberries, and grapes.

The drought may cause supplies of these foods to decrease and their prices to rise. It takes a lot of water to grow a small amount of food. For example, a single walnut takes 4.9 gallons of water to grow and a stick of butter takes 109 gallons of water to produce.

California has started taking action to get through the drought. In February, governor Jerry Brown unveiled a $687.4 million package that is aimed to help California get through the current water crisis, and to better prepare for future droughts.

This legislation pushes for a quicker approval of water conservation and clean drinking water projects which will cost $549 million. The bill also supports farms, which currently aren’t able to plant crops; it pays their grocery bills and mortgage payments.

A total of $15 million from the bill will be distributed to cities and towns that are low on water to serve as emergency funds. $40 million will be used by local agencies to improve irrigation systems, water-use efficiency, and commercial water-use efficiency. The remaining $46.3 million will be used to provide food and housing-related assistance to those who have been impacted by the drought.

Authorities are trying to decrease California’s water use through water conservation education, and also through punitive laws against excessive water use. A new law, which was passed over the summer, fines a resident up to $500 for overusing water. Overwatering plants, using drinking water to hose off sidewalks or driveways, and washing your car with a hose that doesn’t have a shutoff nozzle can all result in a fine.

Side note from The Paper Tiger

Side note from The Paper Tiger

Side note from The Paper Tiger

Side note from The Paper Tiger

California is still working on different regulations in order to start saving water quickly, which may lead to regulations like requiring cities to report the amount of water used on a monthly basis. This can be beneficial because each city or town can then have their own unique plan on how to conserve water. For example, if a city uses an excessive amount of water, goals can be set so they are encouraged and pushed to reduce more water compared to others.

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About Bonnie Wong

Bonnie, a junior at Lick-Wilmerding, is a co-managing editor of the Paper Tiger and editor of the Science and Technology section. Bonnie plays soccer for Lick and enjoys participating in outdoor activities in her free time. In addition to simply writing and reading she hopes to explore different writing styles this year while writing for the Paper Tiger. This is her second year on the Paper Tiger.

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