It seems crazy to think that Californians are losing their homes because of flooding, when just six months ago, watering front yards in the middle of the night to avoid both evaporation and judgy neighbors was common practice. However, California has had many droughts in the past and will continue to have droughts in the future.
What can we do to take advantage of this opportunity to prepare for future droughts? Californians need to continue to conserve water, but first we need to figure out methods for better water containment. After all, we cannot conserve water if we do not have water to conserve.
We need to begin with the basics: fixing our current water containment systems, such as dams like Oroville. In February, the possibility of the disintegration of Orville Dam’s two emergency spillways prompted the evacuation of more than 180,000 Californians. The water from the dam flooded many houses, streets, and acres of agricultural land. If good water storage infrastructure had been a priority from the beginning, this would not have happened. From the Oroville incident, we should learn that all water infrastructure is important to keep in top-shape, not only to prevent flooding, but also to conserve water.
Besides renovating current containment systems, we should also be looking for opportunities to store even more water. For example, UC Santa Cruz and Pajaro Valley’s local conservation district have partnered on a ground water recharging project. Around 40 percent of all California’s water comes from the ground, so many underground water sources are depleted. The project’s goal is to take runoff from hills and channel it back into depleted aquifers. Ground water recharging prevents runoff from flowing into the nearby stream. This reduces flood risks (less water in the rivers means less flood risk for those who live around it) and allows the water to be used by farmers or households (whoever has their well in the recharged aquifer).
Another idea for water collection is a rainwater harvesting system. In Australia, where conditions similar to California often leave the land parched, many houses have individual tanks underground or attached to the house which collect rainwater from the roof. The water is filtered and then used by the household.
The events in Oroville have showcased the inadequacy of our state’s water collection systems. To take full advantage of the opportunity this year’s rain has provided us, we must fix existing infrastructure problems as well as come up with newer solutions.