Though the current winter storm in California is providing the state with lots of rainfall, Californians fear it will not be sufficient to take the state out of its historic drought.
For Californians who have been in a drought for most of their lives, strict water conservation seems to be useless because of the state’s poor management of its preservation and distribution. The California Water Resources Control Board reported in 2022 that urban water usage had increased 19% since March of 2020 due to residents and businesses using significantly more water.
“Drought” is defined as “a prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall leading to a shortage of water,” according to the Oxford Dictionary. Southern California is considered a desert environment but receives a reasonable amount of rainfall annually during its seasonal changes.
“A lot of people do not see we are in a drought because every two or three years we go through ‘El Niño’ conditions, or wet winters,” said Kylie Williams, senior environmental science major and vice president of the environmental science club. “We get an intense amount of rain so people think this makes up for the dry conditions the rest of the year.”
However, that is not the only issue Williams explains. “The main cause of water depletion in our state is unsustainable practices.”
These practices consist of forcing California’s environment to do something it is not naturally capable of doing. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, lack of population control and inconsiderate agricultural practices are the primary reasons for the drought.
Jaz Livingstone, senior environmental science major, agrees that the drought is “definitely a management issue.” Livingstone is employed by Water Wise Consulting, a company contracted by water companies in California to help people maintain sustainable water usage by targeting clients’ major water usage and minimizing it.
“Part of my job is convincing people that they don’t need their grass,” Livingstone said. “Watering grass is the biggest waste of water and Californians want the nice green grass other states have that get more rainfall. A part of the solution would be to convince people to live like they’re actually in a desert because they are.”
However, Californians only play a minor role in this issue, as they cannot control where or what is being done with the process of collecting and distributing water in the first place.
“Our infrastructure is designed to send all of that runoff water to the ocean,” said Dr. Jacob Lanphere, professor of environmental science. “The people who should be concerned with conserving water are city planners, water municipalities, state and local governing agencies — they should be investing our tax dollars in long-term infrastructure such as retention ponds and desalination plants.”
Retention ponds are used to collect or hold rainfall in order to distribute it, and desalination plants are designed to remove mineral components from saline water (like ocean water) to purify and produce clean water to use.
Despite the current weather conditions, California will continue to experience drought should the state choose to execute an environmentally safe plan. Until then, Californians can continue to learn about what it means to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle for both their benefit and that of the drought-prone environment.