Drought-wracked California is consuming more water than its natural systems can replenish. But according to a new analysis, better water conservation and recycling efforts could more than close the gap.
The report — courtesy of the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pacific Institute — pulled data from U.S. Geological Survey models and satellite data to show that cumulative groundwater loss in the California’s Central Valley alone has been getting steadily worse since the early 1960s. The reason is “overdraft” — pulling water from the state’s river basins, groundwater reservoirs, and other supplies at a rate faster than the natural ecological systems can replenish. The report looked at California’s groundwater and the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Basins, and determined the overdraft is now over six million acre-feet per year.
But the analysis also suggests that California could be making far better use of various water conservation and reuse strategies than it is now, for combined potential water savings of up to 14 million acre-feet per year. In other words, the state could close their water supply gap with plenty of room to spare.
Here are some of the best ways California can save water:
Improving agricultural use. Water for crops is the bulk of California’s water use and where most of the savings can be found. These include shifting from flood irrigation to drip and sprinklers, better irrigation scheduling, and applying less water to crops in the drought-tolerant stages of growth.
More efficient urban use. According to the report, businesses could cut their water consumption by 30 to 60 percent with better technology, and homes could cut theirs by 40 to 60 percent by repairing leaks, using efficient appliances and fixtures, and rethinking landscape design.
More reuse. Water put to use once can be reused again for things like irrigation or industrial processes. The analysis found potential savings of 1.2 to 1.8 million acre-feet per year by expanding these practices, especially along coastal regions where waste water is often drained into the ocean.
Better stormwater capture. Traditionally, infrastructure has channeled stormwater runoff away from urban centers and developed land as quickly as possible. The report found many opportunities at the level of the utility and the individual home to capture water from rooftops and paved surfaces and put it to various uses.
California is in its third year of a record-setting drought, and in April every last inch of the state was classified as being in “moderate” to “exceptional” drought. State government efforts to encourage voluntary water conservation are underway throughout California, but consumption in different areas has generally dropped only three to eight percent while officials are asking for anything from 10 to 25 percent cuts. And the hottest parts of the summer are yet to come.