Local and Sustainable Water Supplies

dry lakebed

As California endures a severe drought, it’s a good time to rethink how we use water. California's dry climate is expected to become dryer still as the impacts of climate change intensify. We’ll have to change the way we think about and use water – and now is a good time to start.

In the past 30 years, Californians have become more and more aware of their solid waste production, and now nearly half of the solid waste stream is diverted from landfills to recycling and composting. In water, however, we still follow the wasteful practices established in the last century, when water was plentiful. It is true that conservation has been the primary source of water supply over the past 30 years; water use in California has remained relatively stable even as the population has increased from 22 to 37 million. But even as we have embraced high-efficiency toilets and low-flow showerheads, most Californians continue to think of water as disposable rather than reusable.

So how should California think of water in the 21st century? We must view water as a precious and limited resource that should be used and reused before we "toss it away." Here are some examples of 21st century water management:

  • Landscapes that are irrigated with computerized monitors that water according to the moisture content of the air and the soil, and that capture and infiltrate the runoff from the yeard
  • Gardens that are planted to be a part of nature, that nurture and feed local flora and fauna, and where plant choices are suited to our dry summers;
  • Gray water systems that use almost clean water from our showers and washing machines to water gardens and flush toilets, or rooftop catchment systems that can safe winter rainfall for summer watering;
  • Urban development that retains and reuses stormwater. In a natural landscape, the majority of stormwater is absorbed in the soil and feeds plants and groundwater. In an urban environment, more than 90% of the water runs off into local waterways immediately. Developing green infrastructure (like bioswales and green roofs) to retain and reuse that water will reduce flooding, improve water quality, and provide water supply for local gardens.
  • Households that minimize water waste by regularly checking for leaks, use the most water efficient appliances, and landscape with plants appropriate to the climate.
  • Government buildings and large businesses that recycle water.

Given the water quality challenges created by our current wasteful water habits, and adding in the potential for more long-term droughts as our climate warms, isn't it time we started thinking about water the way we think about trash?

Download these tips for conserving and protecting our water: