On the heels of our Monday story concerning the future of Southern California’s water supply, a meeting of the minds took place at the Aquarium of the Pacific yesterday, bringing together environmentalists, heads of regional water district and various agencies to discuss conservation strategies as Southern California readies for a drought that could severely diminish its already low water supply.
Aquarium of the Pacific CEO Jerry Schubel led the discussion that explored possible remedies for the water crisis, and emphasized a particular focus on the success of the Long Beach Water Department’s efforts to conserve. In the past year, the department has—through public education—stressed the importance of conservation and made it socially unacceptable to waste water, resulting in a 10% drop in water usage over the previous year. Other districts and departments came to learn how it was done, how they can apply the strategy to their own regions, as well as other methods that may be as effective.
A key point made during the conference is that the perception of water use habits needs to be changed. The best way to do this, it was decided, is through public education. Education of the crisis’ severity, education of the need to conserve, and most importantly, how to conserve. It was important to emphasize that these efforts educate and do not act as propaganda—complete transparency is needed.
This was the big one. How do the water agencies stress the importance of water conservation to the public, and what are the best methods when it comes to conserving?
First of all, long-term plans must be stressed. If Southern California had conserved 10% of their water from the year prior—like Long Beach did, and will likely improve upon in the coming year—the state would be in a position to look at short-term methods. But it didn’t. The problem is nearing a level so severe that some at the conference recommended that water districts make certain outdoor uses of water illegal. Also, incentives should be offered to users and distributors that conserve most.
Mainly, districts themselves need to understand the severity of the water crisis. The Metropolitan Water District—which distributes nearly all Southern California water—has done nothing to confront the issue. As a huge agency, their support is vital if smaller districts are to convince the public that a problem exists and must be acted upon.
The process of desalinizing ocean water for public consumption is a desperation move. It’s expensive, time-consuming, and necessary. The conference recommended that $25 million be spent in the future to research the process and the effects it would have on our water supply. An Environmental Impact Report will be needed to paint an accurate picture. By the year 2020, desalinization should account for 10% of the state water supply to provide an added boost. Long Beach is nearing implementation of the practice, and the state must quickly act to adopt a desalinization policy.
Research Strategies and Methods
No data exists to compare the conservation of regions to that of other regions, or California to other states, or America to other nations. This is a problem. Baseline data should be gathered to track progress at every level. Even individual households would receive detailed data on their bill, to track conservation progress and compare it to the regional, state and national averages.
Several other nations—Israel, most notably—do an excellent job of conservation with very low water supplies, so research and cooperation should be done to share information and strategies. Also, a drastic change to Southern California water districts’ infrastructures may be needed, because current models are not effective.
A collapse of California’s delta is imminent, and we should be ready for it. It may not happen for years, or decades, but the earthen levees protecting the delta were recently deemed by the Army Corps of Engineers to be in worse shape than the Louisiana levees that broke during Hurricane Katrina. A 7.0-magnitude earthquake would crumble the levees and trigger a collapse that would all but ruin the state water supply. No plan has ever been made to deal with this possibility.
A state weather report has determined that the current drought we are experiencing will last at least through November, which deals a devastating blow to the state water supply. At this point, California is simply hoping for a miracle rainy season that is extremely unlikely. This was the underlying concern throughout the conference.
A water shortage is already upon us. Conservation is the first step, but long-term, sustainable solutions must be put in place to ensure that California will survive the crisis.
By Ryan ZumMallen, Managing Editor