6 Solutions for California's Water Crisis and How We Can Help


Could this hidden object be the answer to California's prayers? Image via: M.Underwood

As California completes its (ongoing) third year of drought, lawmakers are wondering what do we do? As the Sacramento - San Joaquin River Delta is under increasing pressure to supply not just the farmers to the east of San Francisco but also 23 million people in that area and in the very dry south, lawmakers are unsure what to do next. Popular Mechanics reports on six of the solutions the government's task force on the issue came up with to deal with California's water crisis of 2009 (and beyond).

Turns out, while there are about 5 solutions being batted around the state legislature, late last week a bill by Sacramento Senate Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg made its way to the top and is up for a possible vote this week. Yet, many of the recommendations are things homeowners and residents can and should be doing on their own. After each solution, we'll offer a few tips for how you can get involved and make it happen without waiting for a resolution.Nearly 2/3 of the state's population is supplied by this dwindling water source, while at the same time several hundred thousand acres of farmland lay fallow this year as farmers experienced severe water restrictions. The restrictions are partly to help dwindling salmon and smelt fish populations. Jobs. Money. Sustainability. Reliability. These are all issues that are at stake and must be resolved if the legislature hopes to find a lasting solution. One solution involves a $9 Billion USD bond to pay for upgrading two dams and another involves creating canals to divert water to area farmers. So what is on the line and more importantly, how can we help?

1. 20% Water Conservation

In 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger issued an executive order requiring state agencies to figure out how they could save 20% of water by 2020. Now it looks like this may become law, not just a hypothetical. Native landscaping, low flow toilets (or waterless urinals) and taking shorter showers are all ways that we can conserve water (and easy things that we should already be doing). Water conservation is a easy and smart way to help ensure that there is water for everyone. Just like we need to have energy conservation in addition to renewable energy, water conservation is key in addition to water restrictions.

2. Monitor Groundwater

California ranks as one of the worst states in terms of monitoring groundwater (and they're not much better when it comes to surface water reports). 1/3 of water rights holders don't report on their usage and state officials say that its questionable whether those reports are even accurate. So the second step in getting water back on track in California is to institute better monitoring of the water we do have. It's near impossible to make water allocation decisions without knowing where it is currently going and how it's being used.

Groundwater is hard to monitor because you can't directly see it, but you can poke holes in the ground to measure it. This might mean residents allowing officials onto their property to measure it, even though they may not want to. Most monitoring methods are done by estimating utility bills. New methods of monitoring will need to be instituted, such as using helicopters to do electromagnetic surveys to "map the geometry of underground aquifers."

3. Increase Fines for Illegal Water Use

Seems obvious but if you're illegally diverting water (and you get caught), you're going to have to pay. If officials can improve their surface water monitoring, they can get a better grasp on where water isn't supposed to be. Don't worry, for the time being those rain barrels in your backyard don't count as "illegal" diversions of water. Several states have rules on rainwater catchment, and Utah even prohibits it, but for the time being rain barrels in California are pretty popular and there is no serious threat to their existence. Here are a tips for creating your own rain barrels or you can just search the TH archives for dozens of articles on rain barrels, including tips from celebs like Jack Johnson.

4. Allow Greywater use in Residences

You may have rigged up your own greywater use system for, say, laundry, or even your toilet, but technically you're not supposed to. Using greywater ("waste" water from sinks, and showers but not toilets) for watering your lawn is a good way to cut down on irrigation needs. Just remember to use biodegradable soap or you risk burning or damaging your lawn. Homeowners, though, might have to still come up with a system so that they can divert that greywater back to the septic system should they need to. Think you're alone creating a greywater system or need new ideas, join the greywater guerrillas.

5. Require Specific Agriculture Water Managment Plans

Since California grows almost half of the nation's fruits and vegetables it makes sense that they are also the "top irrigator in the nation." Unfortunately most of that water use (60%) is just for flooding areas, irregardless of their true water needs. Instead, legislatures should tighten down on willy-nilly water use and require that farmers get a better accounting of how much water they actually need. Yes, this will be a burden on farmers, but really just the first time they have to do it. Once the water use has been accounted for, it will be much easier to plus or minus a little from their water use for future years' reporting. State officials can then better advise on whether flood or drip irrigation makes more sense on a case by case basis.

6. Finally, (Finally) Fix the Sacramento - San Joaquin River Delta

The state is currently managed by a sensitive system of levees and canals over 1,000 miles long. Many scientists predict that an earthquake of 6.5 or more could knock over 20% of the system out. Something similar happened in 2004 and cost the state over $100 million to repair it. (Many feel like this area is just the next Katrina waiting to happen). More flooding is expected in the winter as snowmelt increases thanks to warmer temperatures and rising sea levels are expected to bring saltwater into freshwater areas. So, it looks like we either pay now to update and upgrade the system, or we pay later when entire sections of the state are cut off from water.

More on California Water Crisis
Could the Moon Be The Answer to Our Water Woes?
California Drought Means Thousands of Trees to Be Cut Down
5 Documentaries You Must See to Understand the Water Crisis
Out of Water? How We Might Make More

Tags: Agriculture | California | Farming | Water Conservation