10 Signs of California Water Progress

The Golden State may face a future with more extreme weather, which will further stress water resources, but California is well on its way to dealing with this new reality, writes Sean Bothwell of California Coastkeeper Alliance.

Written by Sean Bothwell Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
Governor Jerry Brown answers questions during a meeting at the governor’s office at the California State Capitol in April 2015. Since the drought, Brown has signed laws to help boost efficiency, utilize stormwater and pave the way for direct potable reuse.Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources

The extreme weather swings California has experienced recently, from a historic drought to record-breaking rain and snow, may become increasingly commonplace. A study from the University of California, Los Angeles, suggests we will see more of this weather “whiplash” in the years to come.

Fortunately, California has been busy preparing for an uncertain future. That means making the most of every drop of rain or snow that falls, stretching our supplies through increased efficiency, capturing rainwater and recycling water rather than dumping it. Below are 10 examples of water progress that suggest California is well on its way to water resilience.

  1. Communities keep on conserving: Changes that Californians made during the drought – like replacing thirsty lawns with native plants and upgrading to more efficient appliances – are still saving water and money for ratepayers. The State Water Resources Control Board reported that statewide water use was nearly 20 percent below 2013 levels.
  2. Curbing waste and boosting efficiency: This spring, California took an important step toward water resilience with legislation that sets statewide standards for efficiency. Water use data in the coming years will reveal our state’s true efficiency potential and may justify strengthening these standards, but the legislation creates a foundation for wiser use of all water.
  3. New technology: The push to develop new water sources and stretch existing supplies has led to a boom in technology. From a University of California, Davis, program that taps weather data to help farmers use water more efficiently to a Silicon Valley startup that tracks crop health with aerial imagery and a new app developed by Culver City-based Flo Technologies that detects household leaks, homegrown innovation is helping to boost water security while powering our economy.
  4. Making the most of rainwater: Last year, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that will make it easier to finance projects that capture rain that falls on roads and roofs, and put it to good use. Right now, this precious water runs down storm drains and straight out to sea, picking up unsightly trash, harmful bacteria and toxic metals along the way. By harnessing rainwater, communities can boost local water supplies while reducing polluted runoff.
  5. Recharging underground reserves: As climate change brings more extreme weather events, natural areas alongside rivers can help reduce flooding while recharging aquifers. Meadows and wetlands along the San Gabriel and Los Angeles rivers, for example, capture enough water to supply thousands of homes every year.
  6. Funding sustainable water solutions: In 2014, voters approved Proposition 1, a $7.5 billion bond measure to fund projects that will boost the state’s water security. So far, Proposition 1 funds have been approved for brackish water desalination, sustainable groundwater management, agricultural water efficiency, recycled water and stormwater capture.

    An inspection of a new pump station financed by a Proposition 1E storm water grant to improve urban flooding issues in southeast Fresno.  (John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources)

  7. Ramping up recycling: Communities are reclaiming water for drinking, farming, landscaping and more. The Edward C. Little Water Recycling Facility in El Segundo produces 40 million gallons per day of clean water and cuts the amount of sewage dumped into Santa Monica Bay by 5 tons per day. Orange County’s 100 million gallons-per-day Groundwater Replenishment System is undergoing its second expansion. Los Angeles is currently doubling the recycling capacity of its Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant. Pure Water Monterey will supply drinking water and irrigation for the Salinas Valley while reducing stress on the Carmel River. Pure Water San Diego will supply one-third of the city’s water needs by 2035.
  8. Paving the way for drinkable recycled water: In 2017, Governor Brown signed legislation that paves the way for directly drinking recycled water. Some utilities are already recycling water for drinking, but they are required to blend it with groundwater first. By enabling utilities to deliver purified recycled water straight to customers, the new law reduces the need for costly new infrastructure and energy-intensive pumping.
  9. Desalting brackish water: Desalting brackish water from bays, rivers or underground reserves is far more cost-effective, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly than seawater desalination. That is why more than two dozen communities, from Newark in Alameda County to Torrance in Los Angeles County, are using this technology to boost local water supplies
  10. Reducing reliance on imported water: Los Angeles is working to cut the city’s water imports in half by 2025 and source 50 percent of its water locally by 2035. Santa Monica is on its way to being completely water independent.

These water solutions are more like buckshot than silver bullets, but that is the future of California water: diverse, local, energy-efficient and cost-effective.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Water Deeply.

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