CA Must Act Now to Adapt to Hotter, Drier Climate
Governor Newsom has expanded his emergency drought declaration, which directs the State Water Board to take action to conserve water and expedite voluntary water transfers, from 41 to 50 counties. The Governor also called on all Californians to voluntarily reduce water use by 15 percent. While the calls to conserve are not mandatory, we still need to act urgently. Most major reservoirs in the state are well below historic averages and no one knows how long this current dry period will last. We shouldn't wait until our rivers and reservoirs run dry before we start to conserve; we need to save every drop possible now so it will be available to us later.
While we are experiencing a period of extreme heat and dry conditions, this isn’t abnormal for California. The West has been prone to droughts for centuries and climate change is making them longer, more frequent, and more intense. Much of California’s water supply falls as snow in the Sierra Mountains and our water delivery infrastructure was designed so that as the snow slowly melted over the spring and summer, it would fill reservoirs that could be used by our cities and farms. Unfortunately, climate change has thrown a wrench into that plan. Hotter temperatures mean that our snow packs are getting smaller, melting earlier, and evaporating before reaching our reservoirs or evaporating in the reservoirs. This, along with unsustainable water demands from corporate agribusinesses, means the water nature provides is no longer sufficient to meet the needs of our cities, farms, and ecosystems.
This year is exceptionally hot and dry, but California isn’t experiencing a natural disaster or unforeseen emergency; it’s an entirely predictable scenario, and the State needs to act now to balance water demands and supplies. This means reducing diversions from our rivers to protect fish and wildlife, using water as efficiently as possible and investing in sustainable local supplies like recycled water and stormwater capture. Southern California’s early efforts to improve water efficiency and local reliability have meant the region is in a much better place than the rest of the state, but the region is also dependent on imported water supplies from regions experiencing long-term challenges, so it's imperative that we continue efforts to use water more efficiently and invest in water recycling and other projects to diversify our sources of supply, thereby reducing reliance on imported water and stretching our stored water supplies.
We'll need bold action by the State to save the fish and wildlife in our rivers this year, but there are several things we can all do at home to stretch water supplies and help our communities adapt to a hotter, drier future:
- Fix Leaks – have a toilet that keeps running, a dripping faucet, a leaky irrigation system – now is the time to get it fixed. There is no greater waste of water than a leak! Not only will you help your community stretch its water supply, you will save money on your water bill.
- Replace Your Lawn – Turf grass is the most irrigated crop in the country and as temperatures rise, you’ll need more and more water to keep it alive. Now is the time to take advantage of turf removal rebate programs to transform your outdated lawn into a beautiful, climate appropriate landscape that captures rainwater & supports important species like butterflies and bees. If you can’t afford to transform your landscape right now, just stop watering your lawn – many lawns will turn green again once it rains.
- Keep Your Trees Alive – while you shouldn’t be watering your lawns, it’s absolutely important to keep our trees alive. Trees are a crucial tool for both mitigating and adapting to climate change; they reduced greenhouses gases by capturing carbon and their canopies provide shade and reduce heat island effect.
- Replace Inefficient Appliances – many cities and water suppliers offer rebates for many of the water using products in our homes including efficient toilets, faucets, showerheads, dishwashers and clothes washers. If you have an old water using appliance in your home, take advantage of these rebates and replace your old, inefficient fixtures and appliances with new, more efficient ones.
- Small Actions Can Add Up to Big Savings – There are a lot of things you can do to reduce your water use immediately that don’t require you to spend money. You can stop watering your yard, take shorter showers, only wash full loads in your dishwasher and clothes washer, take pride in a dirty car for longer than normal or use a bucket in your shower to capture water while you wait for it to heat up and use that water to soak dishes or irrigate a garden.
- Track Your Usage – You can track your own usage and progress towards the Governor’s 15% target by paying attention to your water usage on your bill. If you rent, you may not receive a water bill but can keep track using inexpensive flow devices that clip right on to your water pipes.