(Published on Sept 1, 2016)
“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.