It's our responsibility as individuals and as a state to use water wisely at all times, and to prepare for the next drought.
Google defines a drought as: "a prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall; a shortage of water resulting from this." It's been three years going on four since California's latest drought began, and with it a growing awareness of the interesting and frightening implications of climate change for our water supplies.
There's not much we can do to make the rains come in any particular year. But we can affect the degree to which there is a "shortage" of water - because the shortfall is measured only against our demand for water.
The really shocking news is that we persistently fail to manage our water supplies to reflect the reality that California is prone to multi-year droughts. Wet or dry, we divert so much water - 50% of the runoff in San Francisco Bay's watershed, on average - that a permanent drought exists for native plants and animals. We expect individuals to conserve water, but we don't hold California's biggest water user - the agricultural sector - to the same standard. And these powerful interests in agribusiness push for new dams and diversions instead of investing in new technologies that use water more efficiently or planting crops that make sense for California's climate. As a result, when nature doesn't provide wet conditions, the ecosystem is pushed to the brind, water quality is devastated, and people living in small communinities that depend on groundwater see their water supplies dry up.
What You Can Do
You can help by cutting down on water use in and around your home; reusing water for landscaping; reducing your water-energy footprint; and consuming less water-intensive foods and manufactured products. We can help you get started.
What California Can Do
Our new Drought Action Plan identifies dozens of actions that the State of California and local agencies can take to:
- increase water supplies from drought-resistant sources, such as water efficiency, water recycling, and stormwater management;
- expand more environmentally friendly and economically efficient water storage capacity; and
- use investments in natural infrastructure and healthy ecosystems to drought-proof the water supply.
What Congress Should NOT Do
As we write, the news is that House and Senate negotiators are about to release a "drought relief" bill that will not do a single thing to ease the drought's effects. Instead, it would override federal protections for Chinook salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, and other imperiled species, fast-track expensive and environmentally harmful new dams, and place agribusiness ahead of the interests of most Californians. Let Senators Boxer and Feinstein know what a bad idea this bill is.