After more than two years of drought, California may finally see relief with El Niño, a weather pattern that brings cooler, wetter winters to the southwestern U.S. Residents in that state are pushing for water security in more ways than natural rainfall dependency, however. Water Quality Products Editorial Assistant Chelsea Corbin recently spoke with Tracy Quinn, policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), about the drought and a poll that demonstrates voters’ water priorities. Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates conducted the 1,000-person survey on behalf of NRDC.
Chelsea Corbin: What was the goal of the poll and what are some of the most striking results?
Tracy Quinn: A recent poll conducted for the NRDC revealed that 92% of all Californians recognize just how severe this drought crisis is, and they want action now. Furthermore, the poll showed how California voters want drought-busting solutions. By an overwhelming margin of 74% to 17%, Californians believe the best way to tackle the drought with an eye toward long-term climate resiliency is to develop and stretch local water supplies, including recycling, employing water-efficient technologies and fixing long-neglected pipe and other water delivery systems. And 77% of voters would be willing to pay more on their water bill in order to increase sustainable local water supplies.
Corbin: What is the state currently doing to persevere through the drought?
Quinn: In his declaration of the drought emergency, Gov. [Edmund G.] Brown asked individuals to reduce water consumption by 20%, and water suppliers are working to provide customers with the knowledge and tools to accomplish this goal. Some innovative ways water suppliers are educating customers are by providing tools, like water use calculators, and quantifying how much water can be saved with various conservation measures, like taking shorter showers or replacing old toilets with high-efficiency ones.
Corbin: How can other regions learn from California’s experience to become more water resilient?
Quinn: Other parts of the country should look to the regions of California that are faring better in this drought due to improvements in water efficiency and investments in regional supplies and storage. The key to being water resilient is to plan ahead by investing in a diverse portfolio of water supplies, including conservation, water recycling, groundwater management and storm water capture.
Corbin: With climate change expected to induce more extreme weather, do you sense a growing urgency to develop drought-resistant societies?
Quinn: Yes, and there are many things we can do now to become more drought resilient in the future. Given the severity and far-reaching effects of our dwindling water supplies on cities, farms, native fisheries and the environment, we must learn to rethink how we use water in California. Some of the solutions that can get us there are the increased use of greywater and rainwater for flushing toilets and irrigating landscapes, the conversion of turf-based landscapes to drought-resistant gardens, and improvements in the efficiency of water-using products and appliances.
Corbin: How can individuals contribute to securing local water resources?
Quinn: One of the cheapest new sources of local water is conserved water. Individuals can contribute by making small changes to their daily activities, such as not watering lawns as often, taking shorter showers and replacing older, less-efficient products in their homes like clothes washers, toilets, faucets and showerheads with new, high-efficiency ones.
California residents’ opinions on the drought