Enough For Us All! (But We Have To Do Our Part)

“We have enough water to live on, but not enough to waste.” — Dorothy Green, founding president of Heal the Bay.

Dorothy Green wrote these words in an article that was published in the Los Angeles Times in 2008, shortly before her death. She went on to outline a thoughtful set of recommendations to create a sustainable water supply for Southern California.

So it is disheartening to see a Times article appear six years later that practically suggests that, despite this being the driest year in recorded history, everything’s fine.

Sure, that’s a tempting thought. When a problem seems daunting it’s common to try to convince ourselves that it’s really not that big of a deal. Yet there’s another approach. Instead of pretending and ignoring, we can become informed and empower ourselves to take action. Call me crazy, but I’d rather go out fighting than sitting around doing nothing.

In the latest Los Angeles Times article, reporter Bettina Boxall notes, Although this year’s No. 1 ranking makes for an interesting conversation piece, it has little practical effect. As anyone driving around Los Angeles can see, lawns are still green, swimming pools are full. Southland water officials aren’t sounding the alarm bells.”

She then quotes Metropolitan Water District officials indicating that all our supply reservoirs are at great levels right now so, essentially, there’s nothing to worry about this season, even it if remains dry.

Now, no one wants to be a Chicken Little and run around screaming that the sky is falling or in this case, that the rain is not falling, but the simple fact is that there is no alternative to water, and not much is coming our way. And there are real signs of stress to our city because of the lack of rain. Struggling and dying trees—even tough natives—in our local Santa Monica Mountains and surrounding watershed pose a threat to natural systems and habitats, as well as increased fire danger throughout the region and state.

Even in a record dry year, some rain fell in 2013: 3.6 inches. Yet instead of harvesting and conserving water, we waste what does fall from the sky and we continue to import water from distant sources like the Colorado River. In fact, the City of Los Angeles imports 88 percent of its water supply from as far as 444 miles away.

According to a New York Times article from January 6 of this year, our supply of imported water may be going away sooner than we think.

“…many experts believe the current drought is only the harbinger of a new, drier era in which the Colorado’s flow will be substantially and permanently diminished. A brace of global-warming studies concludes that rising temperatures will reduce the Colorado’s average flow after 2050 by five to 35 percent, even if rainfall remains the same—and most of those studies predict that rains will diminish.”

According to the New York Times article, Jeffrey Kightlinger, the general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California said, “To the extent we lose one of those supplies (the Colorado River and Northern California water), I don’t know that there is enough technology and new supplies to replace them.”

“There may be ways to live with a permanently drier Colorado, but none of them are easy. Finding more water is possible—San Diego is already building a desalination plant on the Pacific shore—but there are too few sources to make a serious dent in a shortage.”

And that leaves conservation. And here’s the good news. It’s really promising! It’s not easy, but it can work. It is working:

Last year, TreePeople’s underground 216,000 gallon cistern captured more than 40,000 gallons of water. Just imagine if we captured rainfall around the city, rather than sending it running off into the ocean.

“Arizona consumes essentially as much water today as in 1955, even as its population has grown nearly twelvefold.” And “Working to reduce water consumption by 20 percent per person from 2010 to 2020,” Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District is recycling sewage effluent and incentivizing high-efficiency irrigation, turf reduction and zero-water urinals.

And even more encouragingly, that … “even after those measures, federal officials say, much greater conservation is possible.”

“The era of big water transfers is either over, or it’s rapidly coming to an end,” said Mr. Entsminger, the Southern Nevada water official. “It sure looks like in the 21st century; we’re all going to have to use less water.”

This is going to be possible, not because of wishful thinking, but because we’re becoming more aware and because we can all help.

For information on harvesting rainwater and conserving water, including TreePeople’s upcoming free workshops on February 1, click here.

By Lisa Cahill

Lisa Cahill first began her work with TreePeople as a volunteer Citizen Forester. She currently serves on the board of directors for the reDiscover Center, continues to volunteer as a Citizen Forester, has been on the Mar Vista Green Garden Tour and serves on several green committees at her church and children's schools. She most enjoys working in the garden with her husband, watching her children and vegetables grow.