Posted by Timna Zemel (DRN Intern)
California is in its third year of drought. The water shortage has become so dire, in fact, that on June 19th, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger requested that President Obama declare Fresno County a federal disaster area because of the drought’s strain on the area’s agricultural industry. In a letter that the governor sent to the president, Schwarzenegger explained that water managers have been working on developing various long-term strategies to address the problem. Indeed, many of the issues feeding into the water problem are out of our immediate control, such as climate change, environmental regulations to protect endangered freshwater fish, and population growth. However, I want to focus on one of the strategies Schwarzenegger mentioned that Californians—with a little bit of effort—can implement: “increase water conservation to meet [his] plan to reduce individual water use by 20 percent.”
Many Californians do not seem to realize that “California had only 53 percent of its normal rainfall in 2007, and 58 percent in 2008, and has had only 77 percent this year,” according to the New York Times. Some suggestions for the average citizen:
• Yes, it’s hot, but get out of your backyard swimming pool. According to USA Swimming and the National Swimming Pool Foundation, there are approximately 10 million swimming pools in the United States, and the average backyard pool is full at 25,000 gallons. Swimming is an excellent form of exercise and a fun way to cool down during the summer, but join your neighbors at the local public pool instead of adding to California’s recreational water usage with each private backyard pool.
• Who decided that sprawling green lawns were the standard of landscape beauty? A single square foot of grass can absorb about 46 gallons of irrigation water each year, and if you live in a single-family home, 50% or more of the water you use every day may be going to your lawn or landscaping. Some Californians are opting for artificial turf instead of water-guzzling lawns, but Californians should also plant plants that suit their surrounding environment. For instance, in the desert climate of Los Angeles, a cactus garden would be much more appropriate than an expansive lawn.
• Flush with caution. According to H2ouse.org, your toilet is the largest water user inside your home. Traditional inefficient toilets (pre-1990s basic white models) use 3.5 to 5 or more gallons of water each time they are flushed, whereas “Ultra Low Flow Toilets” (ULFTs) use only 1.6 gallons per flush, and Newer “High-Efficiency Toilets” (HETs) use as little as 1.28 to .8 gallons per flush. I know the economy is tough right now, but many water agencies will provide rebates for HETs that could cover a big part of the cost to change out your toilets. If you are really strapped for cash and absolutely cannot afford a new toilet, then just remember that you don’t have to flush every time. It might sound a bit distasteful to those who aren’t used to extreme water conservation, but only a Number Two really requires a flush; Number Ones can wait.