Mission Viejo High School

Commentary: California’s detrimental drought isn’t so bad

The all-too-familiar topic of the California drought has been seemingly controversial over the past few weeks. Because every Californian resident has their own opinions regarding the drought, the truth behind whether or not California still remains low on water has yet to be revealed.

The Pacific Institute, a “global water think tank” that provides science-based research and policy recommendations to help solve water challenges, runs a website, californiadrought.org, solely based on keeping the public informed on the current status of the California drought.

“In California itself, we are very heavily involved in the current drought, and how the state is setting regulations and permanent prohibitions for the different uses of water,” says the Pacific Institute’s Water Program Research Associate Rapichan Phurisambam.

According to the Pacific Institute, a whopping 18 percent of the state, mainly in Southern California, still remains in “severe” drought status, while 2 percent is living under “extreme” drought conditions.

Ventura, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara counties all find themselves in “extreme” drought conditions, according to droughtmontior.unl.edu.

It is no secret that the California drought has been a controversial topic among residents over the past few years, but, when it comes to determining whether or not California is drought-free, Phurisambam says, “California is a big state, and you have to look specifically at where you are; water issues are typically local, and it depends on where your water supply comes from.

“Southern California, for example, relies a lot on Colorado River water, and some exports from Northern California, so the conditions of that water supply in that region really depends on other areas as well,” Phurisambam explains.

When it comes to classifying and differentiating droughts, Phurisambam says, “There are different indicators, that look at moisture, level of precipitation, impacts on crops.”

“Severe” drought is classified by its ability to cause “crop shortages and water loss, given the plant-water needs. “Extreme” drought, a level worse than “severe”, relates to “major crop losses, and widespread shortages of water.

When looking in specific counties, however, Phurisambam discusses the idea that just because a specific county’s water supply is soaring, that by no means implies that their inner communities are thriving alongside them.

“When you look at the county level, it seems okay, but if you drill down into the community levels, it all depends upon their water supply,” she said.

The California drought can be attributed to many factors, but the most common and generic response to the question of why California is in a drought is simply because of the water “wasted” on everyday activities like showering, brushing teeth, and carwashes.

However, Phurisambam puts this argument to rest immediately.

“This is kind of tricky because of the definition of ‘waste’ itself. We like to think the water we use has some value and beneficial use…but, we do think that residences in California can use water more efficiently,” she said.

By “more efficiently”, Phurisambam continues, the Pacific Institute believes “In terms of their toilets, right now the state has a $1.28 dollar per flush standard, and there are definitely more efficient toilets out there.”

She goes on to explain that the conservation of water is not limited to only toilets, but “showerheads, faucets, and different uses that can help to conserve water. Having appliances or devices that use more water…would you call that a waste?”

Phurisambam confronts the issue of irrigation and the many ways that can help to conserve water effectively when it comes to plants and other outdoor investments. As a tip, she says residents “could use an irrigation control system that is weather based. Having a system that recognizes the precipitation helps to decrease the water use when the extra water isn’t needed for the landscape.”

If there is one type of “waste” of water, it is leaks in faucets, hoses, and other everyday appliances.

“The problem is generally you can’t really detect [a leak] unless you test for leaks in your home. If you don’t have a smart meter system where it detects the amount of water that is dripping, then you don’t know,” said Phurisambam.

As many have noticed, Southern California has been faced with a seemingly relentless amount of rainfall over the course of late January to mid-February, and then in the beginning of March. These rainstorms have “definitely helped to improve the conditions” which is wonderful news for Mission Viejo and all its surrounding cities.

Even with the rain, though, residents must continue to be cautious in their use of water frivolously because “the drought has definitely affected ground water aquifers, and those do take a long time to recover.”

“A lot of the major reservoirs in the state are average or over the long-term average for this time of year, so they’re filling up pretty quickly. When you look at reservoirs in general, [the water level] is much better,” explained Phurisambam.

She continued, “In the short-term, the situation has improved, by a lot, but I think it is premature to say, ‘okay, we are out of the drought, and we’re going to stop conserving, and forget about efficiency.’”

Phurisambam concludes when asked if the rainfall could essentially pull the Southern regions out of drought.

Though Phurisambam says that Southern California is still in “severe” drought status, that isn’t a death sentence.

“It all depends on the amount of rainfall you get, and how people look at the drought,” she said.

“Drought and water issues in California are not just a short-term issue… Even outside of a drought-period, there has been long-term water conflict over allocation of water,” Phurisambam said as she wants to remind students.