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California drought: Searching for a solution

By Lorrie Barclay

In January, California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought State of Emergency and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages. As California is facing one of the most severe droughts on record many are looking for long-term and short-term solutions.

About half of the water consumed in California is used for protected environmental purposes, said Mike Dieterich in an interview with Government Security News. Dietrich is an environmental scientist, bestselling author, and founder of Renew and Sustain, a Washington, DC consulting firm.

Of the human consumption portion the largest is used on agriculture, a percentage that varies in wet and dry years but equals about 80% of all human water use, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Agriculture has, in the last 15 years, increased the percentage of perennial crops (grapes, nuts, and other fruit) from 27% to 32%, which require more water. This shift, plus rising crop yields, has increased the value of farm output (from $16.3 billion of gross state product in 1998 to $22.3 billion in 2010, in 2010 dollars), thereby increasing the value of agricultural water used. 

California grows more than one third of the U.S. vegetables and nearly two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts making this drought a national issue.

“I view this drought as an opportunity to rethink water consumption. This sparks the conversation about how we use resources. It opens the door for innovation, and new technology that will reduce water usage and in turn energy consumption,” Dieterich said. “This does a few things – it reduces our impact on the environment and decreases costs in both energy and water. It also creates a market for efficiency, which allows for entrepreneurs to invent and create new jobs in the field of sustainability. This movement will help people, create jobs and reuse resources, which have a positive environmental, financial and social impact. This is the ‘Renew and Sustain’ approach.”

On April 1, Governor Brown issued an executive order for the first ever statewide mandatory water reductions of 25% of water use.

“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. The historic drought demands unprecedented action,” Brown said in a statement. “Therefore, I am issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reductions across our state. As Californians, we must pull together and save water in every way possible.”

There are many practices that people do every day that is a large waste of water such as doing the dishes by hand. Washing a typical load of dishes by hand can use around 40 gallons of water versus more modern electric dishwashers, which need less than 10 gallons per average load.

Other water wasting practices include washing the car and water sprinklers. Water sprinklers can use up to 265 gallons of water per hour.

Dieterich suggests re-naturalizing your lawn using native vegetation, which reduces or completely eliminates the need for supplemental water from irrigation. This way no water needs to be used for landscaping, which usually equates to 30% of water use.

The easiest thing to do is just turn the water off when it is not being used. Don't leave the water running when you don't need it – it’s as simple as that, concluded Dieterich.


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