(Credit: Jeffrey Lovich, USGS. Public domain.)
Vast regions of the American West are in a drought and water has become a critical concern. And California, the hardest hit, also has the largest demand.
For California residents, as well as other states in the West, conserving water is far more than a smart thing to do. It has become a survival issue for many.
A Record Drought and Vanishing Water
If you live west of the Rockies you already know the situation is bad. And if you live west of the Sierra Nevada mountains, you know the situation is dire.
California is the nation's most populous state with over 39,600,000 residents.
Currently, it is estimated that at least 37,253,950 of these people are living in an area that is in some level of drought. That's 94 percent of the entire state's population! And, of those, it is estimated that 14,174,600 people, or 36 percent, are residing in regions of the state that are suffering the worst level of drought categories, labeled as "Exceptional Drought."
Everyone in the Western states of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and, of course, California are painfully aware of the impact of the drought.
For example, San Jose's Mercury News stated that, overall, 25 percent of California adults named water shortages and drought as the most important environmental issue currently facing the state.
In another article, the newspaper reported that in California, 88 percent of the land was in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, up from 3 percent just a year ago, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Of the twelve major reservoirs in California, for example, half of them are currently below 25 percent capacity, with one - the San Luis reservoir in Central California - sitting at a record 12 percent full.
The latest map from the drought monitor shows that 90 percent of what it considers the West is in drought.
Conditions are “severe” to “exceptional” in about half of the region.
[Map image courtesy droughtmonitor.unl.edu]
Despite the best efforts of state officials and others, the water levels continue to recede in most every region throughout the western states, especially in California. All of which means that the practices of water conservation on an individual level are more critical than ever.
Water Conservation for the Rest of Us
Everyone suffers when the water runs out, but some suffer more than others. For example, this summer, the California State Water Board issued an emergency order barring thousands of water rights holders, including farmers and other landowners, from diverting water from the delta.
To help battle the shortage and alleviate these types of restrictions, the State of California Department of Water Resources offers these water conservation tips:
Indoor Conservation Tips
- Fix leaks, including leaky toilets
- Install high-efficiency toilets, aerators on bathroom faucets, and water-efficient shower heads
- Take shorter (5 minute) showers
- Track your water bill and meter to curtail water use
- Turn off water when brushing teeth or shaving
- Use dishwashers and washing machines with full loads only
Outdoor Conservation Tips
- Plant drought-tolerant/resistant plants and trees
- Recycle indoor water to use on plants
- Refrain from watering your home landscape when it rains
- Replace your grass/turf with water-wise plants
- Use a broom to clean driveways, patios, and sidewalks instead of water from a hose
- Water your outdoor landscape earlier in the day when temperatures are cooler
In addition, the website at SaveOurWater.com offers more tips, such as:
Around the House and Yard
- Fill Bathtub Halfway or Less
- Use Water-wise Plants
- Install Drip Irrigation and Add a Smart Controller
- Set Mower Blades to 3 inches
- Adjust Sprinkler Heads & Fix Leaks
- Soak Slowly when Watering to Avoid Run-Off
- Use Mulch
It may seem that water is abundant on our planet when one considers all the rivers, ponds, lakes, seas, and oceans.
The fact is that the cumulative volume of both salt and fresh water is somewhat miniscule in comparison to the solid matter that makes up the surface of our planet, as this graphic reveals:
The bottom line is that increased efforts at water conservation are absolutely essential and it appears that, unfortunately, this hasn't been the case across all of California.
According to information from the State Water Resources Control Board,
"State figures show widespread differences in water conservation in July, when compared to the same month a year ago. On July 8, Gov. Gavin Newsom urged Californians to voluntarily cut water use by 15%. Parts of Northern California have reduced water use compared to July 2020 and Southern California has hardly changed water consumption habits during that same time."
We obviously must do more.
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