Governor Brown declared a state of emergency in January, midway through our third dry winter in a row, as we face what may be the worst drought on record in California. Snowpack in the Sierras is currently down to 12% of normal. The governor has called for a 20% reduction in water use statewide, as individuals, businesses and municipalities brace for economic and environmental impact in the coming months. The agricultural industry (which, according to Bloomberg.com, is responsible for 12% of the nation’s agricultural output) is likely to see major setbacks, with many layoffs and hundreds of thousands of acres left unplanted.
In an unprecedented move, the California State Water Project, which provides water for 25 million people and 1 million acres of farmland, recently announced they will be closing their doors this spring, to save water for the coming year. Although the decision will be reassessed monthly, California communities will have to turn to local water storage and conservation efforts to meet water needs in the meantime. Current fire danger is also unseasonably high (it’s indicative of a typical August). In the month of January alone, according to CalFire, 400 wildfires across the state burned over 1000 acres, as compared to no fires in January of 2013.
So, why no rain? Meteorologists site a giant high-pressure zone (nearly four miles high and 2000 miles long, according to San Jose Mercury News) that’s been stubbornly camped out over the west coast since December of 2012, and is effectively blocking winter storms across the state.
What does this mean for California residents? It’s time to get serious about lowering water usage in our homes and businesses. According to the EPA, the average American uses about 100 gallons of water each day. There are many easy ways to save gallons throughout the day—it just takes a bit of conscious awareness and creativity.
Ten tips for reducing water usage
- On average, 10 gallons per day of your water footprint is lost to leaks—install low-flow showerheads, water-saving appliances, and repair or replace leaky faucets and toilets.
- Take short showers (shorten by one to two minutes and save 150 gallons per month); limit baths. It takes about 70 gallons of water to fill a bathtub. If you take a bath, only fill it halfway, and limit soap and fragrance to use leftover water for houseplants.
- Most modern dishwashers use less water than hand washing. If your dishwasher is new and washes thoroughly, cut back on pre-wash rinsing. If you hand wash dishes, fill up one side of the sink with water for washing and the other with water for rinsing, instead of continuously running the tap.
- Use the garbage disposal sparingly. Instead, compost food waste into a bucket and add to your yard waste bin.
- Creatively re-use water: If you steam vegetables, use the leftover water as base for soup-stock. When rinsing vegetables, fill a bowl with water to rinse them in, then water plants with the leftover water.
- Thaw frozen food by placing it in the refrigerator for a day or two before preparing, instead of running water over it.
- When washing clothes, match your water level to the size of the load.
- Turn off the water while washing your hair, lathering your hands and brushing your teeth.
- Replace turf with or plant California natives and drought-tolerant plants.
- Get your kids involved in saving water—make a game of it!
- The City of Benicia’s website has many water saving tips and incentives for homes and businesses. From the home page, go to Departments, then Public Works, then Water Conservation, ci.benicia.ca.us.
- The WaterSense Program: labels for products that are 20% more water efficient and perform as well or better than other models. You can also calculate your water usage here: epa.gov/watersense/index.html.
- For 100 ways to conserve water, go to wateruseitwisely.com/100-ways-to-conserve.
- Pedrotti Ace Hardware stocks many items that will help conserve water, 707.745.6887, 830 Southampton Road, Benicia.
Check out sustainablebenicia.org for details and more information.