California’s Drought Gets Personal With Portable Showers, Rain Barrels, And Sewage Water

CREDIT: AP/ Scott Smith

In this Monday, Sept. 15, 2014 photo, Yolanda Serrato, 54, and her family of five bathe with water from this tank in front of her house in East Porterville, Calif. About two months ago, the well where Serrato and her husband have lived for 21 years dried up. They drink bottled water and wash with water from the 300-gallon tank filled up once a week.

While California’s ongoing drought may look like varying shades of red to those on the outside, as it settles into its fourth year the impacts are getting down and dirty. What once was experienced mostly in paltry precipitation numbers is now being felt in daily rituals and last month water and drought topped the list of Californian’s concerns for the first time since polling on the subject began in 1998.

A recent National Science Foundation study also found that the record drought in California is directly tied to climate change. Scientists have determined that climate change makes heat waves stronger and more frequent, which exacerbates drought. This effect is amplified by the reduction in precipitation that is already happening due to climate change in the southwestern U.S.

Some developments this week illustrate the acute impacts of the drought on communities throughout the state.

San Diego Will Turn Sewage Water Into Drinking Water

On Tuesday, San Diego’s City Council voted unanimously in favor of a $2.5-billion plan to recycle wastewater in an effort to confront the drought and develop new, more sustainable sources of water supply. The city’s 1.4 million residents currently rely on imports from the over-allocated Colorado River and Northern California reservoirs for around 80 percent of their water supply.

While the knee-jerk reaction to the notion of reusing sewage water is negative, the ongoing drought has worn down public opinion as well as helped educate citizens to the safety and overall benefits of wastewater recycling. A 2012 survey by the San Diego County Water Authority showed that nearly 75 percent of residents favored turning wastewater into drinking water.

“The drought puts a finer point on why this is so necessary,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said. “Droughts are unfortunately a way of life in California, so we have to be prepared. This helps us to control our own destiny.”

If all goes as planned the city could generate 83 million gallons of clean water per day, about one-third of the city’s water supply, by 2035, making it one of the nation’s largest water purification systems. San Diego is also constructing one desalination plant with the possibility of another proposed in the future, in order to help shift the region’s water supply away from dwindling, far-away resources that could become scarcer and costlier in the future.

Low-Income Households Will Get Drought Kits

California and The Home Depot are collaborating to bring drought kits to low-income residents in northern California, with the first of these being to tribes along the northern coastline. About 2,500 of these kits — which include a low-flow shower head, faucet aerators, a garden hose nozzle with shutoff valve, toilet leak detectors, and a shower timer — have been distributed in the last month.

“Whatever we can get out to the people to educate them about the drought is something we can support too because the drought is with us and it’s not going anywhere,” said Hoopa Tribal Office of Emergency Services Director Rod Mendes of the kits.

Los Angeles Gave Away Free Rain Barrels

Earlier this month the city of Los Angeles announced it was giving away 1,000 used Coca-Cola syrup barrels to be converted into rain barrels to collect precious precipitation for irrigating lawns and gardens. The city planned a slow rollout of the 45- and 55-gallon barrels over several weeks, but they were so popular that they were all claimed the first weekend. For residents still in need, the city then announced that they will offer a $100 discount for purchased barrels, which is expected to cover most of the cost.

“During this time of an unprecedented drought, these rain barrels will be of great importance as we hope to receive significant rainfall this fall and winter and retain as much rainwater as possible,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “In addition, it shows how the city of Los Angeles continues to invest in innovative sustainability projects.”

Parched Central Valley Town Getting Portable Showers

Residents of East Porterville, a small Central Valley community where hundreds of local wells have run dry, will soon be able to take hot showers in a church parking lot. Having grown accustomed to drinking bottled water and bathing with buckets or makeshift baths, the county has taken the drastic measure of setting up about 26 portable showers for a cost of around $30,000 a month.

Andrew Lockman, manager of the Tulare County Office of Emergency Service, said Tuesday that officials were worried about residents taking sponge baths in cold weather

“The poor certainly get poorer,” he said. “We’re trying to provide a safety net, a basic quality of life as people struggle through this disaster.”