As the Managing Director of our Water Solutions Network, Debbie Franco regularly shares information and resources with our network of water leaders. Because we all have a role to play in drought response, we’re sharing her expertise with the wider community.
California is in a statewide drought and there are things that everyone can do today that will influence our priorities and ease our experience of drought conditions, however long they may persist. We can all set a good example and invite others to join us in adopting practices that will allow us to stretch our limited water resources farther and be more resilient.
#1 – Start with Equity
Water is life and it connects to almost every aspect of our lives. Many dimensions of equity are embedded in water: socio-economic dimensions, regional equity considerations, and job and workforce considerations, along with the issues described below in more detail. Equity should inform our choices as we all actively collaborate to assure that water supports our highest community values.
Many Californians are surprised to find that they have neighbors who struggle with water security. If you’re in a rural area, check in with the communities around you. In the Central Valley, Community Water Center, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, and Self Help Enterprises are intermediary organizations that can help you to understand where the most urgent needs lie.
If you’re in an urban community, look for small water systems serving predominantly disadvantaged community households and/or BIPOC households. Look for trailer parks that are not connected to urban water supplies or homes on household water supplies. Consider the cost of water. Are there households in your community that cannot afford their water bills?
Reach out to intermediary organizations, counties, and community leaders to find out what you can do to help. Be proactive. Many counties are struggling to make contact with households facing water shortages. Could you organize a group to do neighborhood outreach? Can you be the connector between available water and the demand for hauled water? In many communities where water hauling is common, when the water gets tight it goes to the people who can afford to pay the most for it. Can you help make hauled water more equitably available?
Tribes and indigenous people live everywhere in California. Each Tribe is unique and you should learn about the Tribe(s) in your area. Many California Tribes rely on water not just for drinking, but as a relation integral to maintaining their culture and lifeway. Tribes have thousands of years of experience in honoring their responsibilities as stewards for California’s lands and waters. Understanding, protecting, and enhancing Tribal control and engagement in land and water management — and honoring their relationship with their place — are essential components of equity, and benefit all of us if we wish to continue to live and thrive here.
California is losing its natural watershed functions and with them the capacity to sustain the rich and diverse abundance of creatures that we rely upon for our survival. There is fear that this drought may be the end of wild salmon runs in California. In the past several droughts, ecosystems have been decimated to squeeze every possible drop of water out for human use. Can we find a better balance? Can humans learn to work with natural systems and readjust our thinking about what is essential water use in the context of species extinction? How do we define equity when these are the stakes?
These are questions that each of us must consider individually and together as we move forward.
#2 – Indoor Efficiency
Start with your own home and property. You are a land and water steward whether you’re an owner or a renter. Have you tested for leaks? Are all of your fixtures watersense rated? Do you have aerators on your sinks? Is your family conscious of turning faucets off when washing dishes, brushing teeth, and shaving? Do you run the dishwasher and clothes washer only when full? Save Our Water has a short list of things each of us can do, and you can search online for water conservation resources to find many more tips.
How efficient is your community’s water system? To find out, check out this interactive water use map created by the Pacific Institute. Be an influencer and encourage your friends, family, faith-based community, community groups, and others to be more water efficient.
Do you have water you can harvest indoors for outdoor use? The easiest is laundry to landscape. Check out Greywater Action for resources that will help you identify opportunities to reuse your water.
#3 – Outdoor Water Management
Most homes in California can reduce their water use most substantially by focusing on outdoor use. If the only person to walk on your lawn is the person who mows it, it may be time to consider lawn removal. Now is the time to dig your lawn under and use sheet mulch to stop its growth when the rains come. Resist replanting right away and instead focus on building soil health. Design your new landscape with water flow, ecosystem, and food in mind.
In most parts of California you can have a thriving landscape that uses little, if any, treated tap water. Building soil health, giving water a chance to spread and meander on your property to promote infiltration, and capturing and reusing every drop may be enough to keep native and drought tolerant plants thriving. Is there outdoor water you can capture for irrigation, in addition to the greywater you will reuse from inside your home? Rainwater is an easy option and can produce more water than you might think. If you live in a foggy area you may be able to capture fog condensate.
One important caveat: TREES. We need our urban tree canopies. We should be expanding the canopy, especially in communities lacking tree coverage. Trees may require direct irrigation depending on age, type, and location. If you’re in doubt about what your trees need, contact an arborist or your local UC Master Gardener Program.
The time to plant is after the first couple of rainy days, when you expect to see consistent rain in your region but before it freezes. You may need to cover your new plants to protect them from frost or freezing the first couple of years. Check out the Land Resilience Partnership for a holistic approach to managing your outdoor water and land.
As we wait to see what this rainy season will bring, there are things we can all do that will help make the drops we get go farther, and make us a little more resilient. If we incorporate these changes with an eye toward long-term transitions, these activities will increase our capacity to meet the demands of climate change.
Debbie Franco is Managing Director of the Water Solutions Network. She coordinates and leads collaboration among the WSN participants, Advisory Council, and partners to expand the network and its impact. Before joining Coro, she worked for almost ten years in the California Governor’s Office, most recently as the Senior Advisor for Water and Rural Affairs. She brings 15 years of experience in the water sector, including collaborating on the Human Right to Water, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, and drought response.
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