(Alternate title: “If You’re Wondering Where Global Warming Went, It’s Out Here”)
Yesterday California governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency due to the drought conditions throughout the state. He’s asking residents and businesses to voluntarily cut their water use by 20%.
2013 was the driest year on record (San Francisco’s records apparently go back to the mid-19th century); indeed, at the end of 2012 we got 2 months of heavy rain, and on New Year’s Day 2013 it seemed to just stop. Other than a solid rain shower in November, we haven’t gotten more than a little drizzle all year.
Northern California has had droughts before, of course. There was apparently a very bad one in the 1970s, and the southwest had a drought around 1993, which I kind of recall reading about (since I lived in Wisconsin at the time). I also recall that after the drought the region went through several years of torrential rain, with serious landslides causing some major property damage. When I moved here in 1999 we were a couple of years removed from that rain, but still got a decent amount of rain almost every year. While there have been a couple of winters of below-normal rain where the state worried about water supply, it’s never been as bad as this.
Reading about what we can do to conserve water, many of their tips don’t apply to us. Since our house is only six years old, it already has low-flow water appliances. We invested in a high efficiency washing machine when we moved in. We already run the dishwasher and laundry with full loads. And we do many little things like not leaving the water running while brushing our teeth.
The big area for water savings is going to be our yard. We do have a grass lawn, and we’re not prepared to (nor do we want to) move to a non-grass landscaped yard. But I will look at adjusting our automatic sprinklers to run less; that’s surely going to have the biggest impact anyway, since I think the sprinklers use more water than we use inside the house altogether.
(Ironically, my gym recently switched their shower heads to really-low-flow ones, and now I take longer showers there than I did before, because the water pressure takes a lot longer to rinse the shampoo or soap away. Probably not what they were hoping for; I wonder if it’s a net win for water use overall?)
So we’ll do what we can, and we’ll see how bad things get this summer. Meanwhile, I really hope the high pressure ridge causing this drought abates so we can get at least a couple of months of rain before the end of winter. While our 70-degree highs in January have been nice, I’d much rather have the rain.