What We Can Learn From California’s Drought
California is nearing its fifth year of drought. Earlier this year in February, reports predicted that 2015 would be one of the worst years of the epic drought.
According to National Geographic, “rising temperatures spurred by the greenhouse effect result in more evaporation and less precipitation,” thus causing the lack of rainfall. In other words, global warming. As a result, California has been plagued with several wildfires and drinking wells are drying up too.
Right now, the state is preparing for a highly-anticipated El Niño in October. An El Niño is characterized by a wind shift in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, causing unusually warm temperatures on the sea surface. This change in temperature changes weather patterns around the globe, triggering heavy rainfall and snow. For the United States, this usually affects the southern half of the country, from coast to coast, though it doesn’t impact the same place every time.
Even though California communities are eager for rain, there are mixed feelings about the event. Depending on how it plays it out, there are high risks of flooding and mudslides. Many sources are reporting that this year’s El Niño could potentially be one of the biggest yet, or “Godzilla-like.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that conditions out at sea are “indicating the probability of an extreme El Niño in 2015-2016.” Yet the models and tools they have to measure temperatures and track the wind strength are imperfect, which means this year’s El Niño could be extreme—or not.
Because of the raging fires, the ground has hardened, which creates potential for flooding. The burning of any vegetation that keeps the soil in place increases chances of mudslides.
California residents and businesses alike are taking precautions and preparing the best they can for any surprises. Business for roofers has increased as homeowners prep their homes.
As a whole, Californians are accustomed to bracing for various natural disasters like mudslides, flooding, fires, and earthquakes. It has been no different during this drawn-out drought period or for the impending El Niño. In fact, when it comes to being ready for when a drought strikes, we have a lot to learn from California. Though there have been damages as a result of the dry spell, the Golden State is actually carrying on pretty well. This has been the case because they had been preparing for this drought for about 20 years.
Cities have implemented ways to recycle their water supply. Agencies are taking water from the Pacific Ocean and desalinating it. The result is 35 million gallons of water a day as clean as tap water.
Other innovative transformations have come from the agriculture industry. Many farmers have switched from using traditional irrigation to drip-irrigation to water their crops. Not only does this use about 35 percent less water per acre, it also increases plant production.
But nothing—good or bad—lasts forever. Though these changes on a city-wide or industry-wide scale are important and have definitely helped California these past five years, equally as important are the changes that families in California and across the country can make. As reporter Charles Fishman of the New York Times writes, “the future of water is going to be turbulent for all of us—not far away, but right where we live; not in some distant decade, but next month or next spring. A sense of water insecurity is coming to many places that have never had a water worry. Here’s what California’s scorching summer of 2015 is showing us: We know what to do. We just have to do it.”
How then, exactly, do those of us that have never experienced drought prepare for possible disasters ahead? For starters, we need to change our relation to water and be more thoughtful in our use of it. Realizing that all the water that surrounds us or falls from the sky is essential in sustaining life on this earth, we should more diligent in keeping it and our environments clean.
Not letting water idling run from our faucets is more than just avoiding a high water bill. It’s about not being wasteful of perfectly good, clean water. Forming habits such as turning the water off as you brush your teeth or wash dishes, or taking shorter showers, will help us in times of shortage, but also give us a deeper appreciation of this natural gift.
We can also save water by fixing any leaks in our homes, replacing faucets with aerators with slow restrictions, wash clothes only when there’s a full load, and insulate water pipes (this helps for the water to heat faster, thus wasting less water as you wait for it to heat up).
If you have a garden, set out buckets or basins to catch any rainfall. This water can be used to hydrate the plants. Also use any leftover clean water from inside to water the garden instead of pouring it down the drain.
Indeed, understanding the value of water can change the way we live our daily lives. “One of the ironies of water is that the more attention you pay it, the less you have to worry about it…More than any water conservation practice in particular, it’s that attitude,” says Fishman, “that will save…us.”