Last weekend, something miraculous happened on our dry little island: it rained! Normally, rainfall on the island begets disgruntled sighs as we reach for dusty raincoats and scramble to reconfigure an ecology hike or start worriedly scanning the horizon for lightning. But after such a dry winter, every drop is cause for celebration.
Our CELP curriculum touches on a wide array of environmental issues, but the extremely dry weather of recent months demands a special emphasis on water conservation.
According to scientists, this three-year long drought is the worst that California has experienced in 500 years. With record lows in precipitation across the state and a disturbingly low level of snowpack in the Sierras for this time of year, there is plenty of cause for concern and immediate action in our thirsty state. Major water sources such as rivers, reservoirs and aquifers are running alarmingly low. California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January, and 2014 could potentially be the driest year on record.
Whom does it affect?
California’s large population and huge agricultural industry are both victims and culprits in this crisis. Our cities, ranches, and farms all rely heavily on our fragile water systems. Many communities are living in fear that they will soon be unable to meet their water needs. Farmers can’t water their crops, ranchers are losing animals, and workers are being laid off or furloughed as water becomes ever scarcer. Increasingly dry ecosystems are threatened with wildfire and loss of wildlife, even species extinctions.
In urban areas, the lack of rainfall – a cleansing process under normal circumstances – has caused air pollution and levels of suspended particulate to reach dangerous levels. Because river levels have become so low, already threatened fish species like Coho salmon are at even greater risk.
The West End of Catalina in February is typically characterized by a bounty of new green growth, and many plants pop up in very different configurations than at any other time of the year, challenging our instructors to identify them. Today the hills of Catalina appear much the way they would in July or October, dry, brown, and dusty, and this winter may well become an even sunnier spring, which is great for snorkeling but very hard on terrestrial wildlife. Our cove at this time of year would normally call Bilbo’s Shire to mind, but today it conjures the parched landscape of Sauron’s Mordor. We can already see the impact this drought is having on many of our native plants
Photo by Nicole Boriski
The full social, economic, health, and ecological costs of this drought are yet unknown. Even with the weekend’s rainfall, we are still well below historical averages for this time of year. For further reading, check out these articles:
Nothing can live without water; we all rely on and consume this precious resource, so it is up to each of us to be a part of the solution in the dry days to come.
So what can we do?
Water conservation involves everyone: from big industries to communities and schools to people at home. Here is a list of ideas for things the average person can do to save water no matter where you live (try to come up with some of your own!) Hopefully some of these are no-brainers:
- Race to see who in your home can take the fastest shower. Can you beat 2 minutes?
- Put signs around your home and school reminding family and friends to conserve water. Make them creative and fun!
- Turn off the faucet when you’re brushing your teeth, washing your hair, scrubbing your hands…
- Why does Macklemore love thrift shops? Probably because it takes nearly 800 gallons of water to produce one new cotton T-shirt. Imagine how much water could be saved by buying trendy used clothing! (1 pair of jeans = 2,900 gallons of water to produce!)
- “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down!” You don’t have to flush every time.
- Instead of letting the water run while doing your dishes, fill a small basin or bowl with hot water and use it to scrub before rinsing with water in another tub or large bowl.
- Wash your pets/car/bicycle on a lawn rather than over pavement/drains. The water goes straight to the grass that needs it and is then filtered by the roots and soil.
- Better yet, get rid of that grass lawn and plant some native, drought tolerant plants!
- If those plants still don’t survive these gnarly times, start a rock garden. (It’s the easiest garden you’ll ever nurture.)
- Write to your local/state politicians and tell them that water scarcity is an important issue to you. Follow the news to stay up to date on what’s happening.
- Use appliances that are water and energy efficient, like washing machines, dish washers, low-flow toilets and faucets, etc. These save water AND money!
- Before you throw used water down the drain—i.e. from pet bowls, dropped ice, rinse water—think about where you could use it instead. Are there any thirsty plants around?
This monster drought seems scary, but small efforts from many individuals have great power in responding to this critical issue. When you utilize cold, refreshing waters of this state, think not only of your own needs, but of all the other people, infrastructure, and wildlife that rely it just like you
For more ideas, check out: