By Navika Dasani
A historically dry state, California receives about 4 inches of rainfall in January. In the first month of 2023, California averaged 8.4 inches of rain in the first month. From October 2022- Jan 2023, there were 32 trillion gallons of rainfall. On average California uses about 34 billion gallons a day. If you do the math, the rainfall should be enough to cover 2 years' worth of water usage. So why is everyone saying we need to work so hard to conserve water?
Dry years are to come:
Intuitively, saving water during such an influx is necessary to survive during later years. California has a pattern of on-and-off droughts that have been occurring for at least the past 1,000 years. For example, the long drought starting in 2012 ended in 2019 with some significant wet years. However, in 2020, California was in a drought again.
Based on this pattern, scientists are certain more dry years will come for California. To make sure California can last through these dry years, it’s essential to conserve water now, when rainfall is abundant. One rainy year is not enough to end a continuous cycle of droughts.
California is not collecting as much water as you think:
The first four months of 2022 started with record-low precipitation. In August 2022, the Farmers’ Almanac said that California would deal with drier-than-average conditions. In October 2022 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said, “The greatest chances for drier-than-average conditions are forecast in portions of California, the Southwest, the southern Rockies, southern Plains, Gulf Coast, and much of the Southeast.”
Nobody saw the storms coming, and Californians were unable to prepare for the collection of the water. In addition, the storms are happening in such a short period that collecting the water is proving to be difficult for dams and reservoirs.
The water that is entering the reservoir system can’t be kept in storage, as this provides flood risks later in the year. Some smaller dams, such as Folsom Lake are having to open their outflow gates wider to prevent overflow. This prevents cities from flooding but also loses water that can be used for other purposes.
Instead of being captured, much of the water flow goes into storm drains or the ocean. A few cities such as in California such as Santa Monica have a system that captures such runoff so that it can be used to irrigate farms and be treated to become drinking water. Unfortunately, these systems aren’t widespread, so a large portion of the rainfall is unusable for Californians.
The drought is still on, and water conservation is a priority because even with the downpour, there isn't as much water as one would think.
Some cities don’t get water from reservoirs:
Because of the unreliable rainfall, cities in California tend to rely on a combination of Groundwater and Surface Water. Groundwater is water from precipitation that seeps into the bedrock. This water can be accessed from pumps and wells. Groundwater is used for irrigation and can be used as drinking water. Surface water is all the water collected in lakes, streams, reservoirs, and such. Some cities rely on both Groundwater and Surface Water, but others rely on only Groundwater dues to a lack of nearby streams and reservoirs.
It can take a year for the rain to go ten feet below surface level. Aquifers (where most groundwater is extracted from) are located hundreds of feet below surface level. It will take a decade, if not more, for the current rainfall to be accessible. Cities, such as Ripon, California, that only rely on groundwater aren’t receiving the benefits of the wet season. For these cities, conserving water is necessary because they have a depleting and limited water supply.
Ways you can conserve water:
These methods are spoken about often, but these are some realistic and simple ways you can conserve water:
Grey water from sinks, baths, and washing machines can be reused for irrigation and toilet flushing. Try installing a greywater system to redirect greywater from these locations to your yard.
Make sure that your dishwasher and washing machines are in the right settings based on their load. Try to use these only when they are full. On the subject of dishwashers, scrape instead of rinse before putting your dishes in the dishwasher.
When waiting for your water to heat up in the shower, place a bucket to collect the cold water. You can water plants, feed pets, or mop your floors.
Check your plumbing and toilet for leaks. One way to do this is to put food coloring in the toilet tank and check back in a few minutes to see if the colored water enters the toilet bowl. If it does, you have a leak and should get that fixed.
P.S. All these tips won’t just help the environment, they will also reduce your water bill!
You can find a more extensive list here.
No matter how much rain an area gets, being mindful of how one uses water is a practical thing to do.