When I moved to southern California nearly 10 years ago, I (like most people) was impressed by the beauty and proximity of the ocean and the mildness of the climate. I also noticed something else. Everything seemed to be a little brown. The greens maybe a little faded from what I was used to.
And so, I began to think a more about something that I’d never given a lot of time to during my days in New Jersey, or Delaware, or North Carolina, or Illinois.
And not the water of the glistening Pacific, but fresh water – from the tap, from the sprinkler, in our reservoirs. There are a lot of people that live in San Diego and we don’t get a lot of water from the sky for us to use. Our average rainfall is about 9.5 inches per year – about 2” less than Tucson, AZ. Everywhere else that I’ve lived clocks in between 30” and 50” per year. When I lived on the east coast, I never thought about rainfall, unless it was something unusual like this last week, when a deluge might occur. Or if a rainless spell in the summer turned everyone's lawns brown.
Only when I moved here did I start to worry about having enough water and what a huge issue water rights are in the West. I naively thought that we’d get our water from the nearby Colorado River. Nope – those water rights were divvied up a long time before San Diego became a major city. As it turns out, we get the bulk of our water piped in from the Sacramento River watershed (thanks Cori!). So not only do we watch our own rainfall totals (because that does help fill the reservoirs), but we also keenly observe the snow in the Sierras. Believe me, from November through March we ALWAYS root for more precipitation. I'm a little bummed, because this week you could feel the weather change and I doubt we'll see rain again until next Thanksgiving.
This year (and our "water year" runs from June to June) has been pretty good — so far we have 12.2" of rain. Not a great year, but we'll take it since the last 4 years were pretty dry (6.0, 3.8, 7.3 and 9.1 inches — note that none of them are above "average"). You can see how green things are in the recent pictures of Penny running on our hillside. And you can see how brown it gets here.
The city has asked residents to conserve water and the mayor announced that consumption in the city was down 10% from last year. Not bad. We've added more drought tolerant plants and have been able to turn back our irrigation — our water consumption was down about 18% from the previous year.
And as I look out over that glistening Pacific each day, I often think, "what about desalination?" — and there is one that is under contract for northern San Diego county. It has been tied up in lawsuits from environmental groups, though in the end, I don't think they'll win because more than any fossil fuel, you gotta have water.