Pretty Good Year

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.
Water.
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.

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26 thoughts on “Pretty Good Year

  1. A lot of NSW has been in drought here for years now and we have very strict water restrictions. No hosing at all or sprinklers. No washing your car or driveways. They allocate a day every now and then when you can hose down your house – its really dusty here because we're a mining town, surrounded by coal mines so things get pretty dirty. Where my brother lives they're only allowed to fill a bucket to water the garden. But it does make you more aware of how precious water is.

  2. Tighter water use regulation here seems long overdue. Our water use, while improved recently, has been far from sustainable. Kudos to you for landscaping responsibly – and tracking your water usage. PBS had a very eye-opening documentary about the U.S. water system. I can't really articulate all the points, but there were many and it was very good. It's worth a watch if it's ever on while you're flipping channels.

  3. Yeah, I don't really think about water that much. It's something we take for granted here on the East Coast. And after a rainy Fall and a very snowy Winter, I don't think we'll have to worry about it for awhile.

  4. Yeah, I don't really think about water that much. It's something we take for granted here on the East Coast. And after a rainy Fall and a very snowy Winter, I don't think we'll have to worry about it for awhile.

  5. According to your map, and the Internet resource I looked up, we average about 12" here in Wyoming. I was kinda shocked at the low number! We have a low population…and lots of wells for irrigation, so I guess we're using up the underground water! :)

  6. We are putting a native plants garden in our front yard. Once the plants really get comfortable in their new home ( a couple of years), it should require no watering.Our installation was delayed by the recent rain.How funny is that?

  7. We are putting a native plants garden in our front yard. Once the plants really get comfortable in their new home ( a couple of years), it should require no watering.Our installation was delayed by the recent rain.How funny is that?

  8. cat — I think the odd thing here is that there's a mistaken impression that San Diego should be sort of sub-tropical — nice and moist. But of course, it isn't — it's saved from being a desert by its proximity to the ocean and having some low mountains to hold the temperate air in and the hot desert air out.

  9. cat — I think the odd thing here is that there's a mistaken impression that San Diego should be sort of sub-tropical — nice and moist. But of course, it isn't — it's saved from being a desert by its proximity to the ocean and having some low mountains to hold the temperate air in and the hot desert air out.

  10. I'll keep an eye out for the special. I mean — you think about the climates here — and Phoenix and Las Vegas — and you wonder — where are we going to get water for these people?!!?

  11. I'll keep an eye out for the special. I mean — you think about the climates here — and Phoenix and Las Vegas — and you wonder — where are we going to get water for these people?!!?

  12. Amy Sue — I think the population density has so much to do with it — as well as public awareness. We've spent a lot of time in NM — and they've really embraced being "dry" — with xeriscapes rather than lawns being predominant. It's really good.

  13. B — even if people are really good about water usage, we've still got too many people to be supported by the yearly ppt. I think even more people will conserve when their water bills begin to hit their wallets more.

  14. The problem with desalinization is what do you do with all the salt afterward? Xeriscaping and greywater usage are much better solutions, IMHO.John

  15. Use it with green energy… LINK That helps, but has its own problems. The solar power storage they describe comes from mirror farms, which are being prevented from opening by environmentalists and NIMBY activists. And such farms are not very useful in urban environments (although some architects have managed to scale the system for passive solar power use).There is also the problem of the type of salt. Seawater isn't pure NaCl, which is what most of these systems require. SO you'd need to refine the salt before using it.John

  16. It's a shame, I sometimes wonder if the technology wouldn't be better spent developing ways to store fresh rainwater long-term and transport it to drought-ridden areas. As extreme as that sounds, I can't imagine killing more and more marine animals every time we overuse our resources (here, it's land. We're packed in like sardines with hardly any natural areas left).

  17. Most desalinization only pull a percentage of water from teh intake. They return to the ocean a higher level concentrated saline solution and utilize ocean currents to disperse it back into the surrounding waters. Only in areas where they are pulling all water and pushing out extremely concentrated salt effluent do they use solar dryers to finish the water removal as well as machinery to cake the final salt. Not sure on what uses this salt has, but there must be something to do with it. Like de-ice roads?

  18. Most desalinization only pull a percentage of water from teh intake. They return to the ocean a higher level concentrated saline solution and utilize ocean currents to disperse it back into the surrounding waters. Only in areas where they are pulling all water and pushing out extremely concentrated salt effluent do they use solar dryers to finish the water removal as well as machinery to cake the final salt. Not sure on what uses this salt has, but there must be something to do with it. Like de-ice roads?

  19. Most desalinization only pull a percentage of water from teh intake. They return to the ocean a higher level concentrated saline solution and utilize ocean currents to disperse it back into the surrounding waters. Yes, and the brine has excess salt (hence my original comment). If not disposed of properly in the ocean, it kills the local ecosystem through osmotic pressure, essentially sucking all of the water out of whatever lives in the area.John

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