Watering Down

California officially has a
budget-yes! Now that that order of business has been taken care of,
let’s turn to another pressing local problem: water in the time of
drought.

The California seasonal drought outlook, as forecast by the
National Weather Service and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration,
is not a happy one. The NOAA/NWS official U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook
predicts the months of February 2009 through April 2009 will bring persistent
and/or more intense drought conditions. Soil moisture predictions are
no different, as the current water reserves and expected precipitation
are all lower than usual this year.

According to the NWS readings, during
January, nearly all of California cities received either less than 50 percent
or only between 50-69 percent of typical rainfall levels. The Metropolitan
Water District of Southern California, which is one of the largest water
providers in California, hasn’t been immune: this water district provides
water to many smaller water districts throughout the state. The MWD’s
water reserves are at under 50 percent (less than or equal to 200 million acre
feet of water).

In June 2008, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
declared the state of California as being in a drought. By January 2009,
the gravity of the situation was revealed further, as a California judge
ordered tightened restrictions on the amount of water that could legally
be taken from the San Joaquin Valley, to be provided to Southern California
consumers. It was further determined that by spring 2009, if there was
no drastic improvement, the state may begin implementing a system of
water rationing. As everyone knows, rationing is no fun, as it is often
accompanied by artificially inflated prices and widespread frustration.

The California Department of Water Resources noted this month that despite
heavy rainfall throughout Southern and Northern California from February
5 and on (with some cities receiving more than 5 inches of rain within
this short span), average water reserves and runoff levels throughout
the entire state are at noticeably lower levels, even lower than last
year.

Other than hoping for miracles
and nonstop rain, Californians can’t control the weather. They can,
however, control the amount of water being used in a given day. California water districts are encouraging people to purchase certain “water
efficient” devices and water conservation programs (such as BeWaterWise, through the MWD,
and SoCal Water$mart, also through the MWD), which offer very generous
rebates to those who purchase these systems. Some of the water-saving
devices include high-efficiency washing machines, toilets and
weather-based irrigation devices, also known as “smart” sprinklers.
Some varieties of the latter have been reported to save thousands of
gallons of water every year. One system, the Cyber-Rain system, costs
more than $300, but rebates are available for a significant percentage
of that cost.

Other helpful tips shared by
water districts and water conservation programs include common sense
tips, which include turning off the faucet when brushing your teeth;
using a broom to clean off the driveway, rather than the hose, and plant
lower water-use/drought-tolerant plants, many of which thrive happily
in California (and include surprisingly pleasant flowers such as the
lantana and the lavender). As an added bonus, the consumer even gets to save
money… on the water bill.

Though the drought may seem
to only bring gloom, this is an excellent learning opportunity for all
Californians (and those in drought-affected states, including Texas,
Nevada and Florida). Californians have an extraordinary ability to adapt
and innovate: by adopting widespread water conservation measures, we
cannot only help conserve our water, but can provide for a continued,
lowered level of extraneous water usage.

And residents who are considering
conserving aren’t alone: the sheer magnitude of water conservation
support throughout the state is quite unlike anything: water districts,
state and local governmental agencies and various water programs not
only support consumers in word, but many provide direct links to programs
to reward the conservationists. Who said it doesn’t pay to conserve?