We all know how important water is to us – drinking, washing, cooking, showering, watering – all part of the things we do with it every day. Water, and clean drinking water, is essential to all of us.
For most of us, when we turn on the tap, water will flow – it comes so natural that we rarely think about where the water comes from, and how they came here.
To have access to clean drinking water is central part of human activities since the ancient time. To have such access, sometimes huge infrastructures are built over a vast territory. The aqueducts in Roman Empire is one of the most distinguished examples.
Roman aqueduct and drinking water
According to “Roman aqueduct” in Wikipedia, “The Romans constructed numerous aqueducts in order to bring water from often distant sources into cities and towns, supplying public baths, latrines, fountains and private households…Rome‘s first aqueduct supplied a water fountain sited at the city’s cattle market. By the 3rd century AD, the city had eleven aqueducts, sustaining a population of over a million in a water-extravagant economy”.
The Roman aqueduct represents one of the greatest engineering achievements in the pre-industrial era. This is one of the 11 aqueducts in Rome, Nero aqueduct, which was built by the infamous emperor that drew water from Claudia aqueduct and sent to his own palace:
Thanks to the aqueducts, water is available everywhere in Rome. It is one such city that you may get around without bringing a bottled water. These water fountains are everywhere. They are called “Nasoni”, from the Italian “nasone” (big nose). The water from it tastes good and is safe to drink.
California: complex water infrastructures and networks
In California, to support the big population across the state (close to 40 million as of 2015) , there are vast regional and local water systems. In addition, huge and complex water infrastructures were built to transport water from water abundant areas, e.g., Sierra Nevada snow mountains, to where they are needed, on top of the local supply. Some of the projects include:
Central Valley project, that transports water to the farmlands in central valley; and
State water project, that delivers water to Southern California.
In addition to surface water, underground water also plays a vital role, providing some 30-40% of the state’s total water supply, which goes much higher in dry years.
When we have a sip of water from a fountain in the San Francisco Bay area, that water may come from melted snow in Sierra Nevada, and travel hundreds of miles in the vast water network before it arrives in the west coast. It takes a lot of work and huge projects for the water to be delivered to every corner like it is today.
Pollution: Drinking Water Problems
One of the most serious problems related to drinking water is pollution.
Bottled water, and the plastics that come along with it, has become a big hazard for our water, especially our ocean and environment. Americans used about 50 billion water bottles a year, however, only 23% were recycled, that means 77% or 38 billion bottles went into landfill, streams, rivers and eventually ocean. There they will not dissolve, but break into smaller pieces which will be ingested by sea animals. This is not a good situation.
Another big problem is the chemicals from medicines and personal care products. After the medicines are dumped into toilet, and the shampoos and sunscreens are used and rinsed off in shower, the chemicals will go into sewage and then wastewater treatment facility. Though water are treated at the facilities, they are not designed to treat the thousands of chemicals present, which will then be released back to the rivers and oceans. These pollutants can be hazardous to aquatic animals. An ingredient in sunscreen can harm the coral reefs. The oceans are so polluted now that the dolphin’s immune systems are failing.
With the huge water cycle in nature, some of the chemicals make their way back and can be found even in treated drinking water, so in the end it can be harmful to our own health too.
Improve Water Efficiency: Recycle, Reuse
Water is a precious resource needed by everyone. How can we best use such a resource? As Felicia Marcus, Chairman of California Water Board put it: “In Southern California and the Bay Area, we have this massive infrastructure to transport water from the mountains, use it once, and then send it out to sea. Instead, we should be capturing more rainwater, recycling it, and reusing it over and over. ”
As Californians learned in the historic 5 year drought, replacing lawns with water efficient gardens can save water significantly which helped us cope with the drought. The next step will be to capture and store more of the rainwater, and reuse it. Use permeable materials in the garden, harvest rain water with a rain barrel, install a rain garden: these are some of the things we can do to further improve the efficiency of our water.
On April 7th, after one of the wettest winter seasons the state has ever seen, Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order, formally announcing the California drought over except in 4 counties: Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne. This was a historic drought. On this day when the drought was announced over, Californians can feel proud that they put in the effort, and met the challenge successfully.
A reservoir in Northern California, at the time of the announcement:
California Drought, and the Drought Emergency
Before this announcement, California had endured a 5-year drought, “worst in the recorded history”.
Prior to 2017, 2011 was the last year when the state’s snowpack water content went above average (165%). After it, from 2012 to 2016, water contents were way below average except 2016. At its lowest point, in 2015, it was only 5% the normal level.
The same reservoir, less than a year ago:
At the beginning of 2014, Governor Brown made the first drought emergency declaration, calling on Californians to reduce their water usage by 20 percent. However, water savings from this voluntary conservation effort fell far short of the target. The savings achieved was only 9%.
In April 2015, facing a drought that was not seen before in the state’s history, Governor Brown made the second emergency declaration. This time, he made it mandatory, which was the first time, that urban water usage be reduced by 25%.
This time, it worked.
Landscape Water Use Reduction Key to Achieving Goal
In the executive order, right after the 25% goal, Gov. Brown asked the state and local governments to “lead a statewide initiative…to collectively replace 50 million square feet of lawns and ornamental turf with drought tolerant landscapes.”
The State Water Board’s Resolution made it clear that outdoor water usage reduction is the top priority in achieving the 25% goal:
From “STATE WATER RESOURCES CONTROL BOARD RESOLUTION NO. 2015-0032”:
“The current emergency regulation has supported Californians’ water conservation efforts, with over 125 billion gallons saved from August 2014 through March 2015; however, statewide water use is only nine percent less than the same months in 2013. Achieving a 25 percent reduction in use will require even greater conservation efforts across the state. In particular, many communities must dramatically reduce their outdoor water use;”
“In many areas, 50 percent or more of daily water use is for lawns and outdoor landscaping. Outdoor water use is generally discretionary, and many irrigated landscapes will survive while receiving a decreased amount of water;”
“Water conservation is the easiest, most efficient and most cost-effective way to quickly reduce water demand and extend supplies into the next year, providing flexibility for all California communities. ”
After the mandate, Californians stepped up the effort. Many of them stopped watering their lawns and just let them turn brown. “Brown is the New Green” signs popped up everywhere. The mandate was effective immediately: water saving jumped from 13.7% in April to 29% in May, the first month the mandate was implemented.
Not Just “Brown Lawn”, But Water Efficient Garden
While a brown lawn did save water, it was far from ideal. For one thing, it was a big eye sore for the community. Aesthetics aside, a water efficient landscape provide these huge benefits that a brown lawn does not:
Provide food for bees, birds and other pollinators, which is critical for the Agriculture industry: bees rely on pollen and nectar to live, without enough flowers to feed on they can starve to death. In recent years the bees’ population has been on such a serious decline, to the point some bees declared as endangered species. Water efficient gardens, with its abundance of native plants, provide a great habitat for the bees and other pollinators, helping to stem the decline;
Improve soil quality and water holding capacity: water efficient gardens use native plants heavily, which are adapted to California’s dry conditions. They have roots that tend to go very deep, which can aerate the soil, create tunnels and spaces that greatly increase the soil’s water holding capability. This can help plants better deal with drought, and reduce the volume and force of flood in wet season. The dead roots can add organic matters deep in the soil, adding nutrients and enhance its quality;
Add color and richness to the view of a house. There are all kinds of drought tolerant plants that sport different height, structure, texture and colors; when designed well they make a lively and beautiful view, with changing colors of the season. A water efficient garden is like a miniature nature that one can enjoy all the time from the comfort of the house.
As the executive order directed, after mandate, a statewide campaign to “replace lawns with drought tolerant landscapes” went underway. Water agencies and companies across the state offer all kinds of rebate programs to encourage the conversion. In most places, the program became a hit with people lining up for the application, and funds depleted in a short time.
This is a turf that successfully went through conversion and received rebate.
22.5%: Water Saving Achieved
2 years after the executive order, with another historic winter season, this time for deluge, the Governor announced that most of the state is out of drought.
During the 2 years, the lawn to drought tolerant landscape program has successfully achieved its target and helped the state conserve water to deal with one of the worst droughts in history.
The water saving target in Gov. Brown’s mandate is 25%; In February, urban Californians’ monthly water conservation is 25.1%. The cumulative statewide savings from June 2015 through February 2017 is 22.5 percent, 90% of the target.
The turf conversion target in the executive order is 50 million square feet of turf, or roughly 1.8 million square miles; Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) alone converted 5 square miles , 2.8 times the state’s target; Santa Clara Water District converted 8.1 million square feet from 1/1/2014 to 6/30/2016.
Since June 2015 to Feb 2017, 2.6 million acre-feet of water has been saved, enough to supply exceeding a third of the state’s population for a year.
“Conservation Must Remain a Way of Life”
When Governor Brown declared the drought over in most of the state, he also made it clear that “Conservation must remain a way of life”.
Even though the drought is no longer in place, the groundwater and the ecosystem will take a long time to recover. They need a constant supply of abundant water over the next decade or longer for their recovery. With climate change and increased population, water the resource will become more scarce relative to its demand. We must continue to conserve water. Replacing a lawn with a water efficient garden, as experiences from this drought proved, can be a highly effectively step in achieving it.
How did Californians do for water conservation since the last report of Oct. and Nov. 2016 ? In addition to the normal question of “does mandate make a difference”, another big question that comes very specifically with this winter season is : do heavy rains make a difference?
From the numbers of the 3 months from 11/2016 to 1/2017, Californians did a great job conserving water, despite of no mandate and the time period being one of the wettest ever recorded in California’s history. Here are the numbers: In November, December and January, Californians reduced water usage by 18.3%, 20.6% and 20.5% vs. 2013. They are very consistent at about 20% level, slightly increasing from that achieved in Sept and Oct at about 19%.
The water conservation achievement in the 3 months of 2016 winter season is very remarkable.
First, it is the first time that Californians conserved more than they did in the same months of 2015. After the statewide water reduction mandate ended in May 2016, water-savings had been less than those achieved in same months in 2015, until Dec 2016, when the water-saving turned in 13.2% higher. January was even better at 19.2%.
Even more amazing is this was achieved in an unusually wet winter. To start off, winter normally is a slow time for water conservation, witnessed by last year’s lower levels in all cold months. To top it off, last winter was one of the wettest ever recorded. From the Northern Sierra 8-Station Precipitation Index, in Nov, Dec and Jan, the rainfall volumes this year almost double those of the average, and more than double those of 2015 at the same points of time. In the face of such heavy precipitation, water-savings not only did not decline, but increase slightly by 8% is truly significant.
While many factors might contribute to this great level of water-saving, one possible reason might be that some of the habits or products people acquired during the drought period stayed, for example, taking shorter showers, using high efficiency washing machines, etc. As a lot of lawns were converted into water efficient gardens, with rain sensors and smart controllers installed, landscape irrigation might have saved a sizable amount of water too.
CA Drought Situation
As of March 14, 2017, according to the US Drought Monitor, 77% of the state is out of drought, with only 23% in slight or moderate droughts. This is a huge decline from last year when most of the state was in extreme or exceptional drought.
Keep Conserving Water
Even though we have had a hugely wet year, we can not lose sight about water and assume we will always have a lot of it. During the 5 years of drought, groundwater was heavily pumped, which was so depleted that it will take many years and a huge amount of water for it to recover. With climate change and a hotter environment, consumption for water will go up while the snow storage we have been relying on will shrink down, creating a severe demand and supply situation. It is projected that the Sierra snowpack can drop by half by the end of the century if greenhouse emissions continue at current speed, which can be disastrous for the state’s water supply.
It is clear water conservation should be our way of life, whether we are in a drought or not. Limit outdoor watering, as about half of water consumed by Californians is used outdoors. Replace the lawn with a water efficient garden – Calculate how much water you can save here.
A water efficient garden will not only save water, but be beautiful as well. They can be full of California native charm, or fulfill some gardening dreams you have had for a long time. Whichever design you choose, the water efficient garden can help us conserve water, and deal with water shortage now and in the future.
The climate change is happening. In California, having just experienced a historical drought, we see what a hotter, dryer place is like first hand. As water is bound to become more and more scarce, how can we best preserve and conserve this valuable resource? Tony Green is an environment speaker who has given speeches at major green conventions and events around the country. We spoke with him about the environment, water, what we can do and more.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
A little bit about my background: before I moved to Silicon Valley, I did some time with the Navy for the Nuclear Power Submarine; once I left the the Navy, I took a job in Semiconductor as a product support engineer; over time I moved into more of the sales and marketing roles, then through time into Cleantech positions. Couple years ago I founded Speaking Green Communications to be a voice for sustainability and the adoption of alternative energy technologies. I am a big believer that if people understood these technologies a little better than they did, there will be a lot less resistance to adopt them.
Why did you choose environment to be your focus? What would you hope to accomplish with your work?
The environment is pretty interesting because environment is more part of sustainability, where environment acts as its stage. Environment moves through the people, and the stage; so environment for me is wrapped into sustainability. The environment is affecting the lives of people, and also people affect the environment by their behaviors and actions. I had a position where I was working on a soil mediation project and I really saw first hand the effect that people have on the environment by their behaviors. That kind of baby passion about doing my part contributed to (my) helping people to be better stewards in the environment.
What kind of the mediation project was it?
This was in Los Angeles area, and it was an industrial facility that made medical equipment, and they have stored things like chemicals. The things stored eventually would leak. The manufacturing plant was no longer working, and the community wanted to develop homes on the land where the factory used to be. The chemicals were contaminated in soil that needed to be removed before this land could be developed for new homes. And so the project was to mediate the soil so that the development could go on afterwards.
Why a voice for Green?
I would like to be a voice because there are a lot of people who are interested in being more green and sustainable, but are either afraid of technology or not sure about what steps they could take, or whether they can do their part. So I tried to make myself as a resource to provide easy steps, and provide knowledge in terms of helping people try to be more green, because on a lot of levels it really makes sense that we take care of the environment that we leave to our children and their children.
You have been in the environment industry for a long time, both as a Cleantech professional and as a speaker. Overall, how do you feel about its progress and what has been achieved?
It’s definitely a work in progress; one of the important things, in terms of environment, is a lot are policy related. People have to participate in the process, and to impress upon their lawmakers – people who really govern policies – that this is important, we have to change our behavior to maintain and steward our environment. I think people have to make their voices heard.
In terms of communicating these objectives – very important – definitely a work in process. There has been progress, but there is a lot to go. It’s kind of the mindset – first we must clean the environment, also to make sure that we are being sustainable going forward, in terms of our practices.
Can you introduce one or two areas that you spoke about recently.
Yes, one of the speeches I scheduled to be giving in Portland Green Festival (Dec 2016) was, “What Is In Our Water Might Surprise Us”. With all the chemicals and pharmaceuticals and cosmetics that go into our water, these contaminants are showing in our drinking water, because waste water treatment systems weren’t designed to remove all the particles and substances. Cities have found trace levels of cocaine in their water. It is not enough to not have problems; more people should be aware that these things are in their water; over time as more chemicals get at it, it is kind of unknown how these chemicals will mix each other. Something people should be aware what might be in their drinking water that actually comes out from their tap.
Another talk that I recently gave was, “Sustainability As a Path to Peace”. It talks about the possibility in water stressed regions the countries going to war over access to drinking water. And that talk goes into the history and how that became big, and more importantly, what tools we can use to prevent people from going to war over access to drinking water which elementary is a human right. This talk I gave at Peace Center at Walnut Creek (California).
What do you think about the drought, and the water challenge that California has been facing since 5 years ago?
The biggest challenge, especially in California, is conservation should be a way of life. I saw the news yesterday that showed the drought monitor numbers that looked as good as you have seen, there were some places in the northern part that were “out of drought”. However in my mind we should always be thinking about water conservation. If you look at climate change, the changes in water, also with the growth of the state of California 10, 20 years from now, conservation should always be a way of life. The challenge is to get people into that kind of mindset.
When people are saying “oh, the drought is over” they go back to their bad water practices, which is what really got us into this situation. The concern is , the drought isn’t over, you should always think conservation, forever. So it makes me nervous from people’s thought – thinking about rolling back – because what you are going to see happening is you are going to undo the progress you have made, in 5 years we will be saying the same things that we said couple years ago when we were in the unhappiest point of the drought.
In California there have been droughts very routinely, but typically rain always come back. While with climate change, the water might not be coming back. A big part of that is the state gets a lot of its rain from Sierra snow melt, a lot of the snow now becomes rains, so the reservoirs aren’t going to get its impact from snow going forward. That means there will be less water available in the reservoir, that is really the biggest challenge.
What are some of the effective ways to conserve water?
People should be conscious of their water usage, but I am big on reusing the water. This month I gave this talk about the idea of using recycled water for drinking. There has been a lot of resistance, they call it yuk factor, people are really afraid of using it because they think it is the water out of their toilet they are drinking, but water is going to be purified before they drink it. Nature has recycled all of the water for millions of years, so.
What can we do in our daily life to protect the environment?
I think we can take steps. In another talk of “10 ways to Save Water”, I mentioned some of relatively easy ways. You can monitor your shower times, you can not wait until your shower is so warm before jumping in, you can reuse that water, you can use your shower water as toilet water. You can think about your water footprint, for instance, you can compost, instead of using a garbage disposal. There are certain things you can do to reduce not just your water, but also your energy footprint. You can get a tankless water heater, which will help you save water and energy. There are a lot of things that can be done, it is just a matter of, making it easy for people to take steps.
What is a tankless water heater?
Water heater is a bowl, it stores water at the bottom. When it heats, the water at the bowl gets heated. When you take shower, you are using extra energy to keep that extra water warm so you have the hot water ready. A tankless heater is really a heater exchanger, it takes the water and heats it when you need it. So you are only heating the water right when you need it, you are not holding a lot of it in the tank, and in the pipe.
Any other observation that you would like to share?
Sustainability and being green is something a lot of people naturally take hold of. The key is to get everyone on board. One of the themes in terms of part of the play is global – everyone’s local choice has an impact globally. Always stay positive, because you always hear a lot of doom and groom for climate change, but positive change can happen. For instance, the decision was made to reduce the refrigerants, now the ozone hole was actually closed because we limited the amount of refrigerant, that is something positive we had an impact on. Same thing with climate change. We can start having a positive impact by reducing fossil fuels and using renewable as energy sources.
The biggest concern has to be the mindset. Typically I talked to high school students, it is kind of important to get the message out so that they learned. It is easier for people be green than to be ungreen when they get old.
What you see as the biggest concerns people should have with their drinking water?
One of the things about drinking water is that a lot of people use bottled water, which is not very good in terms of the plastic, when there is the perfectly healthy drinking water that comes from your tap. If you don’t like the taste of it, a water filter works really well in filtering out and making it taste well. I use it and it works.
The bottled water folks did a very job of marketing saying “you don’t want to drink your tap water, you want to pay us money so we bottle for you.” Many times the bottled water is still water coming out from your tap, just filtered and packaged. If you look at the price, the bottle and the label account for 90% of the price, not the water itself.
If you look at the water bottles, a lot of them go unrecycled. A lot of them end up in landfill, and as an example of local versus global, they end up in in the oceans. It takes 400 years for plastic to decompose, it never really breaks down, it just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces that sea lions and other animals ingest, so it really is not a good situation. I agree in some situations bottled water is needed, but normally the tap water is perfectly fine. Go without bottled water – just drink from tap!
If we are interested in learning more, how can we contact you?
How is California’s water conservation after last report? The October number just arrived, so here they are: In September, Californians reduced water usage by 18.3% vs. 2013, in October, 19.5%. They are quite consistent with the numbers since June, when the water conservation mandate was lifted, in the 17%-22% range. These numbers indicate Californians continue to put in the effort to conserve water after the mandate, and the result is about 20% reduction for total potable urban water use since June.
However, when compared with last year’s numbers for the same month, they all fell short. In September, it was 30.2% lower; in October, 12.2% lower. Actually, in every single month since the mandate ended, less water was conserved than last year’s. In hot months from July to September, it was as much as about 1/3 less. October’s showing actually is the best, at 12% lower. The mandate does seem to make a difference in the months so far.
CA Drought Situation
Thanks to some heavy rains in the last 2 months, the drought situation in the state has been relieved to a certain degree. As of Dec 2o, 59% of California is in “severe drought”, down from 90% at the same time last year. This is a big improvement, but 60% of the state is still in severe drought. We also don’t know how the rest of water year will play out. The drought is not considered over, and we still need to conserve water.
California Water Conservation Mandate
In April 2015, facing California’s historical 4 year drought, Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order making it mandatory that statewide urban water use be reduced by 25% compared with 2013 levels starting June 2015.
Since the mandate started, Californians stepped up their conservation efforts, and statewide water conservation immediately jumped from 13.7% in April, to 29.0% in May. Overall, the statewide water savings for the twelve months from June 2015 to May 2016 was 24.5 percent, when the mandate was effective.
New Water Conservation Regulation – No Statewide Mandate
In May 2016, with impressive water saving achievements for a whole year, and a close-to-normal winter rainfall, emergency water conservation regulations was revised. Instead of a statewide mandate, urban water agencies have the ability to set their own conservation standards based on a “stress test” of supply reliability – their projected shortfall in the event of three more dry years. In the months after this approach was implemented, as the numbers above indicate, less water was conserved than when the mandate was in place.
Continue with Water Conservation
With climate change and population increase, water resource will just keep getting scarcer, not more. It is projected that the Sierra snowpack can drop by half by the end of the century if greenhouse emissions continue at current speed, which can be disastrous for the state’s water supply. As of right now, 60% of the state is still in severe drought.
It is clear we all need to use water more efficiently, and continue to conserve water. Limit outdoor watering, as about half of water consumed by Californians is used outdoors. Replace the lawn with a water efficient garden – Calculate how much water you can save here.
A water efficient garden will not only save water, but be beautiful as well. They can be full of California native charm, or be a floral dream for little princesses. Whichever design you choose, the water efficient garden can help us conserve water, and deal with water shortage now and in the future.
Oct 1 marks the the first day of new water year in California. After the previous 5 years of drought, it is becoming clear the new year will be another dry one, continuing the drought that started from 2012. 6th year of drought – that is what we are facing.
The photo above was shot during a hike at the Steven Creek area in Santa Clara county, South Bay. It was alarming to see, the creek, once so wide, as evidenced by the river bed area, has shrunk down to just a very narrow line.
In the creek, there is hardly enough water to sustain the flow. Some parts of the creek has completely run dry.
As of now, 62% of the state is still in Severe Drought, with 42% in Extreme Drought. The rains brought by El Nino last year did alleviate the drought to some extent, but did not end it. In Southern California the drought situation continue to be very serious.
Still Need to Conserve Water
Facing the severe drought situation, everyone in the state still need to put in the effort and conserve water. When the emergency regulation of 25% mandatory reduction was implemented last year, collectively, Californians conserved 24.5% of water from June 2015 to May 2016. It was a very remarkable achievement.
After the mandate was lifted this June, unfortunately, the water conservation levels declined 3 months in a row. In August, it went below 20%, the lowest for any summer and fall months since last year.
The situation is loud and clear: we are still in a drought, and we can not afford to use water like before.
Replace Lawn with Water Efficient Garden
Outdoor watering for a lawn typically accounts for half or more of an household’s total water use; to convert a lawn to a water efficient garden is the most effective way to conserve water. Use this calculator to find out how much water you can save by converting.
For a lawn of 500 square feet, it can take as much as 4000 gallons of water in a month; if it is replaced with a water efficient garden, 30% to 80% of water can be conserved. Suppose the original household water usage is 8000 gallons a month, and the garden saves 50% of water, the total water usage will reduce to 6000 gallons, a 25% saving versus the original.
In Santa Clara County, you may get rebate for replacing your lawn. The Rebate Program is still open for application. Hurry, put in your application now before the funds are depleted.
An Water Efficient Garden Can Be Beautiful
A water efficient garden do not need to be bare or arid; on the contrary, it can be full of colors and very pretty. Select from a variety of plants of different colors, shapes, height and coverage; choose a design that best showcase each plant’s beauty.
The latest water conservation number just came in. In August, Californians reduced water usage by 17.7% vs. 2013, 35% less than what was achieved last August (27%).
This continued the trend since June, when the state conservation mandate ended and the new flexible local targets set in. It June the water saving declined to 21.5% from 27.5%, and in July from 31.3% to 20%.
While both June and July numbers declined versus one year ago, the 17.7% in August was the first time that the reduction dipped below 20%, the worst showing for any summer and fall months since last year. This is concerning, especially when it looks California may head into its 6th consecutive drought year.
California Water Conservation Mandate
In April 2015, facing California’s historical 4 year drought, Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order making it mandatory that statewide urban water use be reduced by 25% compared with 2013 levels starting June 2015. Right after that, the State Water Board adopted an emergency regulation, requiring an immediate 25 percent reduction in overall potable urban water use.
Since the mandate started, Californians stepped up their conservation efforts, and statewide water conservation immediately jumped from 13.7% in April, to 29.0% in May, which more than doubled the April figure. The conservation maintained at above 20% levels every month, until the cold and rainy winter months from December to February.
Overall, the statewide water savings for the twelve months from June 2015 to May 2016 was 24.5 percent, when the mandate was effective. After the mandate, from Jun to Aug 2016, each month’s reduction is lower than this level.
New Water Conservation Regulation – No Statewide Mandate
In May 2016, with impressive water saving achievements for a whole year, and a close-to-normal winter rainfall volume brought by El NiNo, the state’s Water Board revised the emergency water conservation regulations. Instead of a statewide mandate, urban water agencies have the ability to set their own conservation standards based on a “stress test” of supply reliability. They are now required to reduce potable water use in a percentage equal to their projected shortfall in the event of three more dry years.
After this more flexible approach was implemented, though water saving continued at 20% levels for two months, they declined from those of a year ago. Now, with the lower than expected 17.7% in August, the Water Board indicated this is a “yellow flag” and will closely monitor the situation.
Continue with Water Conservation
It is clear we need to continue with water conservation. Limit outdoor watering, as about half of water consumed by Californians are used outdoors. Replace the lawn with a water efficient garden. Calculate how much water you can save here.
A water efficient garden can not only save water, but be beautiful as well. Take a look at some of the gardens ; browse these drought tolerant plants. Find ideas and inspirations from the blog.
“Severe drought” This is what we kept seeing when we were on our way to Tahoe for a weekend camping trip 2 weeks ago. Throughout the 4 hour drive, we could see the same sign, from east Bay all the way to Tahoe:
California is still in a severe drought
Yes, we are still in a drought, as one can see in the Drought Monitor below.
In the previous 4 years from 2012-2015, the state was in an unprecedented drought. The water content in California’s snow pack was only half or 1/3 of the normal level, in 2015 it was as low as 5%!
Last winter, with El Nno, California received a decent amount of rainfall. Many of us thought, or hoped, all those rains could end the drought. Unfortunately, they did not. While the rainfall was much better than the previous 4 years，and did bring the water content in snow pack back to 86% level, 4 years of drought was too much for one year of rainfall to fix. A couple major reservoirs in the state are still at levels lower or much lower than average (36% -48%).
We still need to conserve water
In April 2015 Governor Jerry Brown declared a state emergency, making it mandatory that statewide urban water use be reduced by 25%. Since then, Californians have done a pretty good job conserving water, cumulatively saved an average of 24.2% from June 2015-June 2016.
Now, facing the still serious drought situation, Californians are asked to continue to conserve water. Instead of a statewide target, each water supplier are now required to reduce water use in a percentage equal to their projected shortfall in the event of three more dry years. For Santa Clara Water District, the target is 20%. In other words, all households in the Santa Clara district are required to reduce water use by 20% this year.
Limit outdoor watering is the most effective way
Outdoor watering for a lawn typically accounts for half or more of an household’s total water use; to convert a lawn to a water efficient garden is the most effective way to conserve water. Use this calculator to find out how much water you can save by converting. Browse www.waterefficientgarden.com for designs and ideas.
For a lawn of 500 square feet, it can take as much as 4000 gallons of water in a month; if it is replaced with a water efficient garden, 30% to 80% of water can be saved. Suppose the original household water usage is 8000 gallons a month, and the garden saves 50% of water, the total water usage will reduce to 6000 gallons, a 25% saving versus with the lawn.
Water Content and Snow Survey
We had a great time camping in lake Tahoe. After a lot of swimming and playing at the beach, we decided to go for a hike. When we reached Mont Rose and were getting ready to start, I saw this at the parking lot area:
So…this is the birthplace for snow survey! It is here, on Mt. Rose, back in 1905, “Dr. James Church established one of America’s first high-altitude meteorological observatories… and carried out his famed snow studies and developed the modern science of snow survey. Dr. Church’s Nevada System of Snow Survey is used throughout the world today to predict seasonal water flow from precipitation stored as snow pack. ”
It is based on this method, or the water content in snow pack across the state that the “severe drought” status for California today was determined. In other words, something that was invented in Tahoe led to the signs on the way here over 100 years later…things have come a full circle, in a rather terrific way.
Well, it is good that we have a method to predict and determine drought; more importantly, we need to do all we can to conserve water and reach our target. With effort and effective ways like water efficient gardens, we can surely achieve that.
Last April, facing California’s historical 4 year drought, Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order making it mandatory that statewide urban water use be reduced by 25% compared with 2013 levels starting June 2015. In May 2015, the State Water Board adopted an emergency regulation requiring an immediate 25 percent reduction in overall potable urban water use. Now one year has passed, how well have Californians been doing?
Overall, we, the Californians have done quite a good job! In the month of April 2015, before the emergency regulation, water reduction was a less-than-impressive 13.7%; after, it more than doubled to 29%, easily beating the 25% target. In the next 4 months in a row, from June to September, the savings all exceeded the 25% target with a high of 31.4% in July.
As the cooler and wetter months of fall and winter rolled along, the water saving levels declined to below 25% target, they also started a month-to-month decline, from 22.4% in October 2015 down to 12% in February 2016.
The State Water Board renewed emergency water conservation regulations in Feb 2016, making it effective through October 2016. Following the renewal, people in the state stepped up the effort again, reaching an impressive 24.3% of water reduction in March.
Statewide the total savings from Jun 2015 to Mar 2016 achieved 23.9% compared with the same months in 2013, which equates to 1,295,703 acre-feet (422.2 billion gallons). How much is this amount of water? It is enough to supply the whole population of California for 2 months!
Watering for Outdoor Landscaping
How can this much of the water saving be achieved? A huge part of the answer lies in the savings from lawns and outdoor landscaping.
Watering for lawns and outdoor landscaping can account for over 50% of daily water use in many areas; to achieve a 25% reduction it is imperative that watering for lawns be cut back significantly. In addition to traditional measures such as reducing the length and frequency of watering, the most effective way is to convert a lawn to a water efficient garden.
The Department of Water Resources targets to replace 50 million square feet of lawns and ornamental turf with drought tolerant landscapes. To that end, it has been providing funding for lawn replacement programs; some water companies and local agencies also provide their own rebate programs. See some of the rebate programs here.
A water efficient garden doesn’t need to be bare and plaid, with just cactus plants. Instead, it can be full of beautiful blooms, colors, and all kinds of different plants. Here you can see some of the garden designs.
To calculate how much water you can save by converting a lawn to a water efficient garden, check out the calculator.
Overall, while collectively we have all done a pretty good job conserving water, we can continue with our efforts and do even better. To build a water efficient garden is one of the best ways to go.
Do all the rains brought about by El Nino end California’s historical drought? The answer is No. While the rains definitely helped ease the drought, they did not end it. As you can see from the graph below, statewide snowpack stood at way lower than average from 2012-2015; in 2015, that level went down to a really low 5%. In Spring 2016, while the rains brought by El Nino helped put the level back to 85%, one season of rain fall simply is not enough to offset the deficits accumulated from 4 years of drought. During the past 4 years, groundwater levels dropped to historical lows; in parts of the state it was as low as 100 feet below previous historical lows. It will take much more than what we receive so far to recover the storage.
We still need to conserve water
Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought State of Emergency in 2014; in 2015, he made it mandatory that statewide urban water use be reduced by 25% starting June. Earlier this year, California Water Board extended the emergency and the restriction on urban water use till Oct 2016. It is clear: We still need to conserve water, and conserve by 25%.
In the 9 months from June 2015 to Feb 2016 when the original 25% reduction mandate was effective, statewide California residents conserved water by 23.9%, just shy from the 25% target. The data means collectively we have done a pretty good job, but we need to continue the effort, and we can still improve.
Ways to conserve water
One of the most effective ways to conserve water is to convert a traditional lawn to a water efficient garden. Other ways include using a high efficiency toilet, shortening bath time to 5 minutes or less, collecting and using rain water, etc.