California Drought Building a better region together, one story at a time

Addressing the Drought With More Than a Drop in the Bucket

San Diego isn’t among the regions hardest-hit by drought in California. But several recent stories emphasize why the drought could affect our region for a long time to come.

There’s been quite a downpour of fretful drought-related headlines lately. “Parched: California Braces for Drought Without End in Sight” (NBC News); “California Is Finally Set to Get Rain, But It Won’t Quench the Drought” (TIME); “California Drought Plea Runs Dry With Feds” (Bloomberg) — the list goes on.

San Diego sits within the region experiencing “Extreme Drought,” according to data by the U.S. Drought Monitor. Hey, at least we’re not those poor “Exceptional Drought” suckers in Bakersfield and Santa Barbara.

Lisa Halverstadt recently explained one reason why San Diego isn’t in worse shape:

A Weather Service spokesman said the statewide average precipitation level was just 7.4 inches, making it the driest calendar year ever recorded.

But San Diego wasn’t as hard-hit by drought as the state as a whole. San Diego’s 5.57 inches of rainfall in 2013 didn’t break any major records. Last year was the 13th driest calendar year for the San Diego area, which has a more arid climate than many other parts of the state.

That doesn’t mean we’re in the clear, either. Here’s a roundup of some recent news that emphasizes why the drought could affect our region for a long time to come.

• City Council President Pro Tem Sherri Lightner and Lani Lutar, executive director of the Equinox Center, sounded the alarm as level-headed voices of authority in an op-ed for the U-T:

No matter what the city’s water situation currently is, we still need to do more. There’s no one solution to achieving lasting supply independence. We must use all the tools available to us, including conservation, desalination, recycling and reuse.

• In case the urgency hadn’t sunk in, Mother Jones reminded readers that a drought in the Golden State — which provides roughly half of the nation’s fruit, nut and veggie supplies — has broader consequences than a few dry lawns.

Jay Lund, a water expert at the University of California-Davis, says that water problems mean that agriculture may soon play a less important role in California’s economy, as the business of growing food moves to the South and the Midwest, where water is less expensive. Production rates for thirsty crops like alfalfa and cotton have already diminished significantly in the last few years. Between 2006 and 2010 alone, the amount of land irrigated for cotton fell by 46 percent.

• It would appear San Diego’s been giving conservation the ol’ college try. The U-T reported residents, businesses and institutions cut per-capita water use by 27 percent between 2007 and 2013, and offered a host of ideas for further savings. Among them: collecting water in a bucket while your shower heats up to water plants later or flush the toilet, and installing a graywater system to reuse laundry or shower water for landscape irrigation.

• Don’t be surprised if you see recycled and reused water resurface as a major solution in the next few years. The county’s Water Authority has big plans for diversifying water sources by 2020, and wastewater could play a role. Halverstadt reported:

The city of San Diego has conducted a handful of pilot studies on adding recycled water to the region’s general supply. Last year, 10 North County water agencies came together to increase necessary infrastructure to boost recycled water use for irrigation.

Some of these efforts are already paying off.

In 2013, the county had more than 27,000 acre-feet of recycled water in its supply. It hopes to almost double this amount by 2020.

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