Monday, October 10, 2011
I recently discovered the Long Beach Water Department’s Water Wasters app. I’m always upset when I see sprinklers watering just as much sidewalk as lawn, so I loaded the app on my phone in anticipation of reporting violations. Just last week I spotted a building with a busted sprinkler head, creating a veritable lake on the sidewalk at least 10 feet long and several inches deep. I whipped out my phone, opened the app, and fired off a report, hoping the Water Department would follow up on the violation quickly. When I looked at that massive puddle, all I could think was, “there’s our Sierra snow pack, sent to us as pure, clean water, headed straight down the drain and wasted.”
Granted, this wouldn’t have been my first thought months ago. But in interviewing representatives at the California Department of Water Resources for an article in the Aquarium’s member magazine Pacific Currents, I learned that about 65 percent of the potable water we use here in Southern California comes straight from the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We rely on annual precipitation levels to supply our drinking water, as well as the water for our lawns, toilets, kitchen sinks, showers, and laundry machines. That was a much higher percentage than I would have guessed, although now that I think about it, I can’t think of many other sources of water available to us. There’s recycled water, treated at our wastewater treatment facilities, but that rarely gets to you and I - it’s mostly used by municipalities for things like watering golf course lawns, landscaping in medians and other public green spaces, etc. There has been talk of building desalination plants that would turn ocean water into potable water, but those are costly and the process is labor-intensive. With today’s infrastructure, our state has to rely on snowmelt and rainwater held in reservoirs.
Now, throw climate change into the mix. No matter what we’re able to do to slow down the rate of climate change, our water system is likely to be impacted. The snow pack will no longer be as reliable, as precipitation rates change and storm season timing shifts. Experts predict more intense droughts and flooding. Has our state ever seen conditions like this before? What are state agencies doing to prepare? What can we do? Get answers to these questions at our next Aquatic Academy course, California and Water: How Will Southern California Get Its Water in the Future?, beginning next week on October 20. In four weekly sessions, learn about the water conditions California has undergone over the last several centuries. Hear from climatologists, meteorologists, geologists, and representatives from state and local water agencies.
The course cost is $50 for Aquarium members, $60 for non-members, and $15 extra for CEU credit in conjunction with California State University, Long Beach’s continuing education program. You can RSVP and read the full course schedule and list of speakers here.
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