Waterwise Solutions for a Drought

Last week there was a climate summit held in New York. Climate change is indeed happening and can be felt across the globe. World leaders are now trying to take steps to softening the blow of global climate change. Even the Rockefeller family, who made its wealth in oil, is starting to divest from fossil fuels into cleaner alternatives. The climate change has affected the globe with extreme weather conditions; in California, that means a drought.

The Golden State is not the only region experiencing a crippling drought. Our neighbors in the Central America are feeling the repercussions of a lack of rainfall, as well. Guatemala has declared state of emergency in 16 of 22 provinces. The lack of water coupled with climate change has devastated crops across Central America – causing the price of staple foods like corn and beans to rise. Panama has also seen a drop in the water supply of the lakes that provide water for the Canal. This will force ships to lighten their loads in order to make it across. Stateside, this means that we may also see a price hike in consumer goods.

For us in Southern California, climate change has left us hotter and drier than previous years. In fact Gov. Jerry Brown had declared a state of emergency in January.

To put the drought in perspective:


Taken from LATimes.com, Gif by Alvaro Valino


Currently, 58 percent of California is in “extreme drought” conditions according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Although some of us cannot feel the impact of the drought because our tap water hasn’t been cut off, the visual impact of dried up lakes should help you wrap your head around the severity of the issue.



Photo by California Department of Water Resources, taken from NPR.ORG

Folsom Lake in Northern California. In 2011, it was at 97 percent capacity. This past January, it was at 17 percent.

Although rain dances are scientifically ineffective, human engineering has given us the technology and know-how to help thrive in the driest of times. Cemeteries, such as Mount Sinai, are beginning to reuse and recycle water to help conserve the lush landscape. They couple their irrigation system with computerized systems to minimize the use of water. Common sense also comes into play as they only water their lawns at night. Recycled water can also be used to help golf courses maintain their putting greens.

Some homeowners are even taking the initiative to use drought-tolerant plants. Use less water, but still look green and healthy year round. For instance, this (Almost) All American Home in Houston Texas is a reinvented ranch house. In addition to a drought-tolerant garden and photovoltaic solar panels, it uses a 1400-gallon underground rainwater collection tank to irrigate its backyard farm. Being an environmentally-conscious, urban farmer never looked so good.


taken from USGBC.ORG

Photo by Karen Lantz

taken from usgbc.org

Photo by Karen Lantz

On average, more than 50 percent of California’s residential use goes towards watering lawns. In an effort to conserve water, some landscapers are beginning to offer Xeriscaping (zeer-i-scape), which focuses on using drought-resistant plants to use minimal water while maintaining attractive scenery. Xeriscape is a portmanteau of two Greek words – Xeros meaning “dry” and scape “view”.


image taken from howstuffworks.com

A Xeriscaped plot in Colorado


A Xeriscaped walkway


The sad truth is cutting water use is not going to help us last long in a prolonged drought and not everyone can afford to retrofit existing homes with underground irrigation tanks. Because of our close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, Californians actually have an abundant supply right off the coast. Some cities, like Carlsbad, are taking advantage and setting up desalination plants – factories that process seawater and turn it into clean, usable water for drinking and even irrigation. For every 2 gallons of seawater, the plant would produce 1 gallon of fresh water. Poseidon Water, the developer of the desalination factory, extols the fact that it is a drought-proof answer to the state’s water needs. Although it seems like a miraculous cure, there is opposition who cite the plant’s massive energy requirements to find a more environmentally friendly solution. These concerns have stalled construction on another desalination plant in Huntington Beach.

A video about the Carlsbad Desalination Plant



Another type of desalination plant may be even better than what Poseidon Water is offering. Seawater Greenhouse is a company that creates buildings which combine a greenhouse with a desalination plant. These greenhouses use solar power to process the water and irrigate the produce inside of it. This type of greenhouse is an answer to the agricultural problem of farming in desert areas. Being so close to the Pacific Ocean, this could be a viable solution for farms across California.

The Seawater Greenhouse in Australia



Climate change and drought is not going to be solved by one single individual or industry. It’s up to all of us to be more mindful about the resources we use.

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