We are in the midst of a water emergency and we all must work together to protect public health and safety. 2014 will likely end up being the driest year in state history unless weather patterns change in the next month. Typically, we receive the bulk of our rainfall December through January, but the Sierra snowpack was recently measured at only 12 percent of average water content for this time of year. And this comes on the heels of two preceding dry years.
You may have heard news reports about recent official actions addressing the drought. Last month, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency and asked us all to reduce our water use by 20%. Last week, the State Water Project (SWP), a function of the California Department of Water Resources, announced that it would longer deliver water to agencies around the state, including San Diego, at least for now. This will be the first time that SWP has stopped delivering water in its 54-year history. Emergency legislation to free up funds for clean recycled water projects, conservation programs, and expansion of the use of captured storm-water will soon be considered by the State Legislature.
It is important to know that even though San Diego receives 20% of its water from the SWP, we are in no immediate danger of running out of water. Luckily, there is enough stored water to get us through this year. But if the drought continues into another year, those reserves could be tapped out and we could face mandatory rationing, unless we take steps to reduce our use right now.
The situation is graver in other parts of California. Seventeen rural towns will run out of drinking water in a matter of a few months unless the situation changes. Farmers are seeing their allocations of water drastically reduced. Rivers and streams are low and fish and other wildlife are in jeopardy. And not only has the lack of rain increased the threat of wildfires – 400 in the state in January as compared to none in January last year – but fighting a major fire would also eat into our precious water reserves.
San Diego, a semi-arid region, is no stranger to water shortages and we are actually on the forefront of water conservation and developing new sources of fresh water. A desalination plant in Carlsbad is nearly halfway built and will begin producing fresh water in early 2016. A study on purified recycled water is currently underway in the City of San Diego.
More important, San Diegans have become experts at not wasting water. Through simple steps like capturing the “warm-up” water from our sinks and showers, water-efficient appliances, capturing rain water in barrels, and planting drought tolerant gardens we have reduced our per-person water use 27% since 2007. But now we must try to do even more.
Please visit www.saveourh2o.org for helpful conservation ideas. And “like” Save Our Water on Facebook and follow them on Twitter for the latest water news and ways each of us can do our part to help our state through this crisis.