Posts tagged California drought

Photo: The cracked and parched Lake Hume reservoir bed in Victoria.

Photo: The cracked and parched Lake Hume reservoir bed in Victoria.

Like California, Australia has experienced long periods of drought over the centuries. Australia’s most recent drought was labeled the Millennia Drought, beginning back in 1995 and lasting until 2012, drastically impacting the entire country’s infrastructure and lifestyle.

“It is clear that Australians use less water than Californians, with a similar climate, economy, and culture. If California had the same residential water use rates as Australia, it could have reduced gross urban water use by 2.1 million acre-feet.” – U.C. Davis Comparison of Residential Water Usage between California and Australia

In response to the severity of its long-lasting drought, Australia implemented serious reform at the state government level. For instance, regulators use satellite imagery to identify and impose fines for green lawns. Public government reports are used to reveal household water use, while shaming water-wasting individuals is considered an effective tool for reducing daily water consumption. A cap and trade system allows water and land owners to buy and sell shares of their water allotment. With signs of another drought affecting parts of Victoria and South Australia, the country is better equipped to conserve and manage their precious resource because these strict measures are already enacted.

Although Australia’s response to the latest drought may be considered radical measures by some Californians, it is clear the country has succeeded in significantly reducing their water usage, allowing the population to survive one of the worst droughts in history.

So what is keeping California from adopting similar measures?

Well, for one thing, there’s a reason why our drought is often referred to as an “invisible” problem. Culturally and subconsciously, some Californians have a hard time giving up or cutting back personal freedoms of water usage. And despite our individual efforts to save water, maybe we need radical reform to make the problem visible and the solutions more unified at the state and federal levels. California is not the only state in a drought, and it’s best for all citizens to recognize resources like water are not infinite, whether stricter measures are or not enforced.

Via USDA-NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service); illustration by Doug Adamson.

Via USDA-NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service); illustration by Doug Adamson.

City roads, sidewalks, and lots paved over with impervious surfaces like concrete and asphalt are great for optimizing travel by foot, bikes, or cars. But these man-made surfaces come at a price: they do not allow storm water runoff to penetrate back into the soil and into aquifers, redirecting water flow directly into city storm drains, and in the process carrying pollutants out to the ocean. Impervious surfaces combined with pollutants hinder the hydrologic water cycle, reducing the amount of water that percolates through the soil to recharge groundwater supplies essential to our ecosystem, especially in times of drought.

There are various ways to integrate and reduce impervious surface areas within your own landscapes to help water back into the natural water cycle:

Permeable Interlocking Pavers: Unit pavers with aggregated fill gaps in between the interlocking pavers.

Permeable interlocking pavers installed within a public sidewalk at the City of Burbank, Lake Street. Credit AHBE Landscape Architects, Ackerstone (Manufacturer)

Permeable interlocking pavers installed within a public sidewalk at the City of Burbank, Lake Street. Credit: AHBE Landscape Architects, Ackerstone (Manufacturer)

Pervious Concrete Systems/Grasscrete: Cast-in-place pervious concrete paving that is rated for fire truck loading access

Pervious concrete system installed in a designated fire lane in lieu of traditional concrete or asphalt vehicular paving at Hyundai Headquarters, Fountain Valley. Credit: AHBE Landscape Architects, Photography by Brian Mitchell and Heliphoto

Pervious concrete system installed in a designated fire lane in lieu of traditional concrete or asphalt vehicular paving at Hyundai Headquarters, Fountain Valley. Credit: AHBE Landscape Architects, Photography by Brian Mitchell and Heliphoto

Concrete Unit Pavers with Aggregate Filled Gaps

Brian Mitchell (AHBE Staff) incorporate the use of unit pavers and cobblestone to create an interesting design allowing run off to percolate through the cobblestone gaps.

Brian Mitchell (AHBE Staff) incorporate the use of unit pavers and cobblestone to create an interesting design allowing run off to percolate through the cobblestone gaps.

Ceramic Pervious Pavers: Pervious Pavers by KloroStone allows water to absorb and seep through the pavers itself, but keeping the solids such as debris, and sand to remain on the surface of the pavers.

All of these material solutions can help resurface our city’s infrastructure to operate more like a giant sponge rather than a water wasteful aqueduct, allowing water to be used more efficiently, and reenter the land’s own natural lifecycle rather than be washed out to the ocean.

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Groundwater and the Drought: How the West Is Miscounting Water Supplies: Years into a historic drought, Western states like California are wrestling with an inconvenient truth: there’s likely even less water than people think. This animation illustrates why the more water is extracted from underground, the harder it becomes to restore the region’s rivers and reservoirs…

Expandable “Origami” Pot Grows Along With Plants to Cut Waste: “GROWTH, a new design concept by London-based Studio Ayaskan, offers a dynamic take on the standard flower pot—one which not only saves gardening time and effort, but also promotes sustainability and cuts down on unnecessary waste.”

7 Takeaways from the So-Cal Lawn + Landscaping Dilemma: “Some landscape designers argue that there are consequences for the ecosystem to getting rid of lawn. So what can and should Angelenos do to cut back on lawns responsibly? The advice can be conflicting and overwhelming…”

Federal Buildings In SoCal Caught Wasting Water Amid Drought: An undercover news investigation records government workers breaking the City of L.A.’s Emergency Water Conservation Plan, watering government facilities for over two hours…

Los Angeles Sanitation Composting Workshops & Compost Bin Sales: This Saturday at the Griffith Park Composting Education Facility the Department Of Public Works and LA Sanitation is offering a composting workshop, alongside heavily discounted compost bins for LA city residents.

All Photos by Linda Daley

All photos by Linda Daley

If you were to look around my home you’d find I’ve placed buckets in the tub, shower, and sinks. The reason? I am intent on conserving water during the drought by capturing as much of our household water for reuse in my gardens and flushing the toilet. The daily yields of greywater captured from the sinks and tubs have given me useful information about our household water habits and usage. For example, I discovered that running our shower water until it gets hot fills up a five gallon bucket in no time.

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At some point our buckets graduated from an everyday utility pail to decorative home accessory. How did this happen? I blame the process of trial and error. I managed to accumulate a number of pails and containers while looking for the best ones for collecting water. Rather than storing my “failed” purchases in a closet, I thought instead to keep them where they may be needed. Hence, one bucket started holding long stemmed flowers – just like the ones you see in the farmers market – to add cheer to the bathroom, while another one was flipped upside down to serve as a convenient table or seat next to the tub.

farmers market flower buckets

Not my best decisions. Luckily, my husband put a stop to it. So I am passing along a few tips in case you have not yet ventured down this path during these drought-conscious times.

Things to Consider When Purchasing a Bucket for Greywater Collection:

Bucket size: The first set of buckets I purchased were too large. At 15 inches in height, I kept scraping my calf against them in our small shower. For my 5’-7” height, a 9-10 inch high bucket with rounded edges solved the problem. I also think the rectangular, versus round, buckets capture more water. For the shower or tub, you can purchase the larger sizes, but you will need a smaller pail to pour the water into (see why below). A 12-15 quart pail works for me.

Plastic versus metal: A bucket full of water is heavy. I learned right away that I don’t have the strength to carry a 5-gallon container of water (what was I thinking!) to the garden. Although I like the look of galvanized metal pails, the plastic ones are a bit lighter, and every ounce matters when you are hauling water through the house. Don’t go cheap on the plastic either; they won’t last long with constant use.

Handles: Make sure your pail has handles. I use the smaller 5-6 inch high containers in my kitchen because they fit perfectly in my sink. These containers do not come with handles but then my backyard is also a short distance from the kitchen. Sturdy handles just make carrying the water easier. Look for the ones with sturdy grips. Your hands will thank you.

Color: The first set of buckets I used were painting buckets. They are bright orange. I developed a negative emotional response whenever I saw the bright orange. Color matters. Surprisingly, buckets come in neutral and other colors. I now prefer to stick to white. Otherwise, I get caught up with the whole matching-to-décor thing. And my husband will have none of that anymore.

7 ways to skip a shower: The premise behind the “campaign” is a plea for pledgers to skip 26 showers for every 4-ounce hamburger consumed in order to offset the vast amounts of water used when turning cattle into food. And while the idea of skipping 26 showers per burger may seem unrealistic, the figures are real.

How Much Rain Would End the Drought?: What’s the best way to get people to stop watering their lawns? Why aren’t we investing in desalination? Will we ever get used to the idea of drinking our own (recycled) pee? And most importantly, when will this drought be over?

The New Creativity: Man and Machines Curated by Sylvia Lavin with the UCLA Curatorial Project
From the first house R.M. Schindler designed using a drafting machine to contemporary architects who design digital drawing devices instead of houses, The New Creativity: Man and Machines examines creative practices in relation to the social and technical complexes that support and constrain them.

Once illegal, watering the garden with drainage from the washer or shower is gaining favor: Costanzo is among millions of Californians who, amid the state’s fourth punishing year of drought, are increasingly turning to gray water – from the clothes washer, shower or bathroom sink — to keep trees and other plants hydrated.

California’s Drought Changes Habits in the Kitchen: Across California, home cooks and restaurant chefs are adjusting to a new reality in kitchens where water once flowed freely over sinks full of vegetables, and no one thought twice about firing up a big pot of water for pasta.