The drought in California persists – for the fourth consecutive year. Snow Water Equivalents are used by The State Water Resources Department to measure how much water is contained within the mountain snowpack. As of March 3, there was only 22% of normal snowpack in the Southern California, and 19% of normal statewide. And this was despite a weekend of rain and snow. The Bureau of Reclamation announced on February 27th that farmers who receive water from the Central Valley Project will receive only enough water in 2015 to meet their health and safety needs, or 25 percent of their historic use. In light of this record drought (and record extreme weather in other parts of the country) it may be time to face the fact that we may not experience historical water supplies any time soon. So what is being done in the Inland Empire both to "weather" the drought and plan for a long-term decrease in water supply?
Unfortunately for the Inland Empire, this is not the first drought, so local water agencies were prepared to offer all sorts of solutions to the recent dry spell. Riverside Public Utilities offered rebates to residents who replaced their lawns with artificial turf, and the City instituted mandatory water conservation measures that restricted lawn watering times and unnecessary water use. Similarly, the City of San Bernardino offered residents rebates for high efficiency water fixtures and drought tolerant plants, and the Metropolitan Water district of Southern California utilized their bewaterwise campaign to provide water conservation resources to their customers. Currently, a project by the Inland Empire Utilities Agency and the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District aims to increase the regions ability to capture and store water during wet years to keep on hand for dry years. But while these storage and conservation problems go a long way to help reduce the need for imported water, a growing population and a changing climate create a critical need for more creative solutions.
In Orange County, not too far from the Inland Empire, the Orange County Water District operates a treatment facility that processes waste water and puts it back into the drinking water supply. This method, often lovingly referred to as toilet to tap, puts waste water through a 3 step process which produces a product that exceeds drinking water standards. Orange County’s system injects the water into the ground first, but systems are starting to be developed to put it straight back into the system – these are called Direct Potable Reuse. The only problem with this method is public perception. The water is cleaner than water that you would pull out of the ground in many places, but the idea of drinking water that was previously flushed down the toilet is unappealing to many people. However, projects like this can recover a significant amount of water, preventing the need to import from elsewhere. Agencies just need to figure out a way to improve public perception.
Whether it be extreme conservation, increased storage, or toilet to tap, it is clear that changing climate conditions may be creating conditions that will last well beyond a drought period. If we are going to expect this semi-arid climate to support our growing population, it is going to take more than just taking shorter showers.
What are some other creative ways to ease the water problem? Would you drink reclaimed, or toilet to tap, water? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments area below.
Credits: Images by Taylor York. Data linked to sources.