The video below may have some NSFW language, but regardless of your profanity meter, it pretty much sums up the general sentiment about the drought affecting those of us here in the Southwest.
Between watering restrictions, watering fines, brown vegetation everywhere (crispy dry palm trees are really ugly, by the way), rampant wildfires, and hot, hot, hot autumn weather, everyone is talking about water lately, sparking lively debate and occasional finger pointing about just what do we do to conserve water.
The outlook is bleak. An article in LA Weekly addresses what we can expect in Los Angeles as aquifers dry up and the potential for rain diminishes: water rate hikes, water use policing, and steep fines for water abuses.
Adding salt to the wound, a recent study suggests that this drought has an 80 percent chance of lasting at least a decade! Which begs the question…are our efforts enough? Is it enough to empty swimming pools, and be judicious with flushing? Is it enough to cut back on animal product consumption, directing water into more effective agricultural use? Is it enough to use ocean water rather than fresh in the ALC Ice Bucket Challenge?
The answer is complicated. The answer is yes and no.
Here’s the Situation
The steps listed above are incredible important to conserve the limited water we have, but they are bandages covering a much larger wound that affects not just California, and not just the food supplied to the rest of the country by the largest agricultural state. The issue is infrastructure and the way that we live on this planet, and it doesn’t belong to only those of us in the midst of the drought.
In cities like Los Angeles, where the vast majority of water is imported from other sources (also rapidly drying up), such as the Colorado River and Sacramento Delta, it is vitally important to clean up our own water (like the San Fernando Valley Aquifer, which is unusable due to pollution from the aerospace industry,) as well as implement wastewater recycling systems like in San Diego.
Dr. Alex Hall, Professor at UCLA’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences agrees. “There are number of measures L.A. could take. We should have dual-meters, one for indoor and one for outdoor. What we use for outdoor can be reclaimed water, and treated to a lower standard than drinking water. That would cut per capita usage significantly. It would also cut water treatment costs,” says Hall. “It is wasteful to treat most of our water to an extremely high quality standard and then dump it on our yards.” In addition to dual meters, Hall notes many technological opportunities for reclaimed watering systems, such as redesigned gutters that flow into trenches, capturing rainwater and replenishing the groundwater, rather than flowing into the ocean. “We need soil moisture sensors and ‘smart watering,’ where watering happens when the plants need a drink, not just because someone set their sprinkler to go off at such and such a time,” says Dr. Hall.
Of course, change comes as the result of demand. So as consumers, it is our responsibility to demand better reclamation systems. We should educate ourselves about water-wise home systems and available programs already in place, like the Turf Removal Rebate program, which is just as important as monitoring our daily water consumption. “We also need a lot more native plant landscaping,” adds Hall. “There is so much water wasted to maintain plants that could never survive in this climate. And you can’t really even find the native plants at the big box landscape/hardware stores. They’re just not available to most people.”
It’s an easy fix, notes Hall. “But people have to demand native/drought tolerant plants otherwise the businesses will just go on assuming everyone wants to keep planting non-native, water-hungry plants.”
What The Drought Means for the Rest of the Country
But why does this matter to anyone not affected by the drought? Why should the rest of the country monitor water usage and demand sustainable infrastructure and reclaimed water systems? While it may feel strange to conserve water in parts of the country that currently seem to be submerged in it, it’s a necessary step to shift the general mindset from reckless, to one of mindful and deliberate consumption.
“Water resource issues are going to be one of the key challenges associated with a changing climate. Any time there is a major water resource crisis it is a harbinger what’s to come for everyone,” say Dr. Hall.
And while we here in the Southwest may bemoan our dry, hot weather and increasing prices, Hall asserts that “the drought is an opportunity for L.A. to exhibit some leadership in the management of water. Just think — if we in L.A., of all places, got our act together, that would be a model for other places, especially other cities in semi-arid or arid environments.”
Every Drop Counts
Now more than ever, it’s important for all cities to implement this self-sufficiency and consumption awareness, because let’s face it – even if we do figure out how to build a space colony this century, it’s not likely to be able to save us all. There are small steps you can take that make a big difference. Check out these Creative Ways to Rescue Water and Use It Around Your Home.
Image source: Kevin Cortopassi/ Flickr