Don’t Waste the Drought

Charles Fishman, author of The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water, wrote a provocative OP-ED, ‘Don’t Waste the Drought’ in the NYTimes that identifies opportunities to achieve more resilient water policies and practices.

Some of Fishman’s suggestions are big, like fixing our nation’s water infrastructure to save the 16% lost to leaks. Others are small, like developing smart faucets and fixtures that report how much h2o was just used i.e. a kill-a-wat(t)er. [I better trademark that name!!!!]

Perhaps the most contentious policy that Fishman advocates for is that ‘…we need to be brutally realistic about what kind of crops we should be growing, and where.’ Compared to how that threatens big ag, making toilet-to-tap water recycling common place will be an easy PR gig to implement…

The pain of this drought, a slow-motion disaster, is very real. Drought can lead to paralysis and pessimism — or it can inspire us to fundamentally change how we use water. Water doesn’t respond to wishful thinking. If it did, prayer services and rain dances would be all we’d need.

To put the drought in context, the NYTimes web graphics team created an interactive timeline of precipitation patterns in the US going back to 1899.

click image to open the link to the NYTimes

In Los Angeles (and Southern California), we experience a great fluctuation between drought and wet years tied to El Niño/LA Niña oscillations in the Southern Pacific (ENSO).

Many Angeleños know we receive an average of 15″ of rain a year. This statistic is dangerously misleading, as the average amount of rain is something that we rarely get, as our precipitation fluctuates dramatically year to year, depending on both ENSO and regional climate conditions (see the Water Year chart below). Looking at the current cumulative total for 2012 (click the image below for real-time data), the spatial distribution of rainfall becomes apparent – so what is average precipitation for LA?

For the methodology behind the Los Angeles water year chart above, see: Precipitation And Its Effect On Groundwater Supply In WRD’s Region, WRD Technical Bulletin Volume 11, Spring 2007

The Aqueduct Futures project will contribute to the dialog about the future of water use in Southern California. Stay tuned for the Cal Poly Students innovative designs for water infrastructure and means to communicate the importance of water to the public.


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