California has seen a shift in the amount of rainy days when compared to previous years. With streets flooding and reservoirs overfilling, it may even seem like too much rain.
The state has recently gone through the worst drought in over a century, beginning around 2011. On Jan. 17, 2014, Governor Brown issued a Drought State of Emergency.
This state of emergency brought restrictions that prohibited wasteful water practices. These practices, as stated in Article 22.5 of the Drought Emergency Water Conservation, include washing a car without a shut-off nozzle, the use of potable water for driveways and sidewalks alike and operating a water fountain that doesn’t recirculate water. Restrictions also pushed for a 25 percent reduction of water use throughout California.
“The water restrictions have inspired many Southern Californians to adopt landscapes that are more appropriate to our climate than the English tea garden lawns and landscapes that we currently have,” said Sean Chamberlin, a Fullerton College professor for more than 20 years with a PhD in Biology. “California-friendly landscapes, with native and drought-tolerant plants, reduce water use, invite wildlife (bees, butterflies, and birds) and keep the ocean clean.”
Because of the extreme drought, low levels of surface waters made water pumping a more prominent source for irrigation in land fields such as Central Valley, which is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, stretching for more than seven million acres.
One of the many consequences is subsidence, or the caving in of land. This means California is literally sinking due to the drought. The California Institute of Technology reported that over the course of May 2015 – Sep 2016, San Joaquin Valley, located up north in Central Valley, has sunk about 22 inches in certain areas.
Fortunately, between 2016 and 2017, the State Water Resource Board confirmed that the state experienced a significant amount of snow and rainfall which caused many reservoirs to shift to flood-control operations.
Although this is good news for California’s drought status, the Board stated, “Some reservoirs remain critically low and groundwater storage remains depleted in many areas due to the continued impact of prolonged drought.”
In Orange County, there was a 6.3 percent increase in groundwater storage levels and a 29.6 percent increase in groundwater recharge compared to last year according to the Orange County Water District.
About 75 percent of water used in Orange County comes from groundwater as opposed to imported water from areas such as the Colorado River. As a result of the drought, water pumping has taken out about 400,000 acre feet of ground water, leaving an empty space.
With the rain California had so far this year, along with the strongest storm in years to hit Southern California on Feb. 17, 2017, 80,000 acre feet of groundwater is predicted to fill up.
Denis Bilodeau, President of the Orange County Water District, stated, “That’s good news, but then again, we’re going from negative 400,000 to negative 320,000, so we still have ways to go to bring the aquifer back up to normal levels.”
A strategy to help fill the aquifer is water recycling. The Orange County Water District recycles about a third of all the water used in the O.C. region. With an advanced purification process, reclaiming sewage water is now possible, making 100 million gallons of fresh water a day. It is then re-injected into the aquifer.
“Had we not been doing that, we’d be in a more serious crises. We take tremendous steps to assure that our aquifer doesn’t get depleted,” Bilodeau continued.
Many residents of California find it hard to give interest to the drought since it doesn’t seem to affect them personally, leading to dismissal of the topic.
“Over the long term, the drought (and extreme floods, heightened by global warming) affect student pocketbooks with higher taxes, higher water rates, more expensive food, reductions in services (parks closing, for example) and lowering of the quality of life,” Chamberlin claimed as he points to activities such as hiking to waterfalls and boating in lakes.
As the State of Emergency slowly comes to an end after 6 dry years, permanent actions are in the process to help California better prepare for the next drought by keeping water restrictions as a new way of life in California.
Chamberlin asks students and residents alike to stay informed.
“Read newspapers. Follow scientists on social media,” he said, “Think beyond your own needs and look beyond your own local environment. Nature is our life support system. Without it, we perish.”