Combatting California’s Drought with Crowd-Sourced Solutions

california's-drought
Amber Plante for Zondits, July 16, 2015. Image credit: Fathergoose

Drought-like conditions, like those parching California for the past 4 years, can affect everything from lawns to energy resources, in part because historically 30% of local fresh water resources go into making useable energy for homes, streetlights, and normal societal conditions. But the cycle is vicious: According to a recent University of California, Berkeley study, “The consumption of water in California requires approximately 20% of the state’s electricity, 30% of its non-power plant natural gas, and 88 million gallons of diesel fuel annually.”

Thus, it takes water to make energy, and it takes energy to use water. Add in California’s reliance on already limited water resources and you’ve got the ingredients for trouble. Those water resources are so limited, in fact, that climatologists agree that it will take years of above-average rainfall just to get the state back on an even keel – which is a long shot given the region’s naturally arid conditions, a surge in crop farming, and expanding population demands.

Scientists claim climate change leading to the reduced Colorado River basin is a large factor, while politicians arm themselves with increasing rate data to discredit global warming phenomena. With the two groups left to battle over the cause of the drought, we have but one viable option: to educate ourselves on how to reduce water use and gain independence from an energy system that may be in line for another pre-Governator, rolling blackout energy crisis.

The following is a list of water conservation efforts that residents can implement now.

  • Experts suggest watering your lawn only in the early morning or evening hours to decrease the amount of evaporation and, thus, wasted water. That said, watering your lawn may not even be helping. By allowing your lawn to “get a tan” in the summer, you’re conserving water since a minimal usage won’t even penetrate to the root.
  • In some regions, drought-tolerant landscaping is preferable to grass since it can survive on less water and may be more indigenous to the natural environment.
  • Cut back on extraneous outdoor water use. Sweep your patio or walkway rather than hose it off with water.
  • Fix any leaky pipes as soon as possible to ensure you’re using every drop of the water you’re paying for.
  • Double the efficiency of the water you do use: If you need to cool down, use a sprinkler on your lawn and run through it. Same goes for washing your car: If you chose to do it at home (which is less efficient than going to a carwash, which recycles its wash water), park your car on the grass to double up the water’s usefulness.
  • Energy efficient appliances such as water-conserving dishwashers, low-flow toilets, and front-load clothes washers will not only conserve your neighborhood’s water supplies but it will save you money. You don’t get more win-win than this.

Though they are small in scale, if these efforts are made by many residents, they can effect a large-scale change and could help jump-start the state to enact climate change-related regulations to sustain future generations through water and energy shortage scenarios.

In El Paso, Texas, a community that is used to water conservation efforts, the programs in place have been transformational. A public conservation effort was put into place in the early 1990s educating its residents and rewarding them for good water conservation behaviors on an individual basis. The following are a few examples of its efforts and how they could translate to state-wide conservation efforts in California.

  • Bathroom benefits – A local Texas utility’s Cash for Your Commode program has helped residents and businesses install more than 54,000 low-flow toilets in the region and covers incentives for waterless urinals. The El Paso Electric Co. has rebates covering 17,000 water-efficient washing machines and has given away 185,000 low-flow showerheads – enough for 80% of the city.
  • Reuse and recycle: Sopping up reclaimed water in El Paso has been a boon – in 2010, residents were able to reuse 2.1 billion gallons of water (which is only about 5% of the city’s total usage). Regulators have in place a reclaimed water goal of 15% by 2020.
  • According to Governing.com, “The water utility office has offered rebates for the replacement of more than 11.2 million square feet of turf at more than 3,000 sites that plant less thirsty varieties such as buffalo grass, a soft gray-green grass, or zoysia grass, which is resistant to droughts and almost indistinguishable from more traditional lawn turf.”

Since these regulations went into place, El Paso has managed to reduce its water usage by approximately 30% per person, despite an increasing population of nearly 200,000 residents. These are impressive numbers that, when extrapolated to California’s booming population, could be the framework and solution to the state’s ongoing water and energy crises.