Quantcast

4 Reasons Why El Nino Won't Solve California's Epic Drought

Climate

El Nino will solve the drought.

You’re hearing this sentiment around California these days. After four years of bone-dry winters, warmer Pacific Ocean waters are expected to bring lots of precipitation to California this winter—a huge opportunity for replenishing California’s depleted reservoirs and aquifers.

Ceres’ new California water campaign—Connect the Drops—is elevating business voices on the urgency of better maximizing the water that we already have.

But it’s wishful thinking to believe that El Nino—even a Godzilla El Nino as many talk about and skiers dream about—will make the state’s dire water shortages go away.

For starters, warm arid conditions that California has been experiencing the past few years are widely believed to be the “new normal”—the result of the state’s intrinsically dry climate and climate changing trends.

On the heels of the hottest month on record globally in July, new research released last month makes clear that global warming impacts in California are exacerbating drought conditions. It’s basic logic: less snow pack means reduced water supplies and hotter temperatures mean more water is lost due to evaporation.

But there’s another reason why El Nino and any subsequent heavy rain years won’t fix California’s water crisis: We don’t maximize the water we already have. Whenever it rains in California, much of that water is funneled directly into the Pacific Ocean rather than being captured and used. The amount of water being lost is staggering—a one-inch rain event in Los Angeles County can generate more than 10 billion gallons of stormwater runoff, most of which ends up in the ocean. That’s enough water to fill the Rose Bowl over 100 times!

Also, large volumes of treated water are dumped out to sea. For instance the Hyperion Treatment Plant in Los Angeles discharges more than 250 million gallons of wastewater each day into the Pacific Ocean. Instead, this water could be additionally treated and reused.

There have been some successful projects to reverse this trend, but far bigger investments are needed in stormwater capture, recycling and other types of green water infrastructure. While the state’s recent $7.5 billion water bond will help finance some of these types of projects, it’s not nearly enough.

Water lost from leaks in water distribution systems is another significant problem. A 2010 study done by the CA Public Utilities Commission estimated that 10 percent of urban water—870,000 acre-feet—is lost to leaks and that 40 percent of that water could be cost-effectively recovered through leak repairs, pressure management and targeted pipe replacement.

Fortunately, legislation approved just this week by lawmakers in Sacramento will help tackle this problem. SB 555—a bill backed by a half-dozen major California businesses, including The Gap, Dignity Heath and Symantec—established annual requirements for the filing of water loss audit reports by urban water suppliers. These validated audit reports will provide useful and actionable information for individual water suppliers and policymakers as they decide on water-saving investments in the future.

Ceres’ new California water campaign—Connect the Drops—is elevating business voices on the urgency of better maximizing the water that we already have. We work with businesses, which like all Californians, are banking their futures on sustainable water supplies in California. Because, unfortunately, El Nino will not be the silver bullet fix for California.

Kirsten James is a senior manager at Ceres who directs the organization’s policy program in California. For more information, visit ceres.org or follow on Twitter @CeresNews

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

The Drought in California Is So Bad the Ground Is Literally Sinking

California Businesses Save Water in Style With #DroughtNotDrab

Ocean Plastic Will Be Found in 99 Percent of Seabirds by 2050

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By George Citroner

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and the World Health Organization currently recommend either 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (walking, gardening, doing household chores) or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise (running, cycling, swimming) every week.

But there's little research looking at the benefits, if any, of exercising less than the 75 minute minimum.

Read More Show Less
Mary Daly, president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, poses for a photograph. Nick Otto / Washington Post / Getty Images

It seems the reality of the climate crisis is too much for the Federal Reserve to ignore anymore.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Passengers trying to reach Berlin's Tegel Airport on Sunday were hit with delays after police blocked roads and enacted tighter security controls in response to a climate protest.

Read More Show Less
A military police officer in Charlotte, North Carolina, pets Rosco, a post-traumatic stress disorder companion animal certified to accompany him, on Jan. 11, 2014. North Carolina National Guard

For 21 years, Doug Distaso served his country in the United States Air Force.

He commanded joint aviation, maintenance, and support personnel globally and served as a primary legislative affairs lead for two U.S. Special Operations Command leaders.

But after an Air Force plane accident left him with a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and chronic pain, Distaso was placed on more than a dozen prescription medications by doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Read More Show Less
(L) Selma Three Stone Engagement Ring. (R) The Greener Diamond Farm Project. MiaDonna

By Bailey Hopp

If you had to choose a diamond for your engagement ring from below or above the ground, which would you pick … and why would you pick it? This is the main question consumers are facing when picking out their diamond engagement ring today. With a dramatic increase in demand for conflict-free lab-grown diamonds, the diamond industry is shifting right before our eyes.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Preliminary tests of the bubble barrier have shown it to be capable of ushering 80 percent of the canal's plastic waste to its banks. The Great Bubble Barrier / YouTube screenshot

The scourge of plastic waste that washes up on once-pristine beaches and finds its way into the middle of the ocean often starts on land, is dumped in rivers and canals, and gets carried out to sea. At the current rate, marine plastic is predicted to outweigh all the fish in the seas by 2050, according to Silicon Canals.

Read More Show Less
Man stands on stage at Fort Leonard Wood in the U.S. Brett Sayles / Pexels

Wilson "Woody" Powell served in the Air Force during the Korean war. But in the decades since, he's become staunchly anti-war.

Read More Show Less
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa on Nov. 8. Matt Johnson / CC BY 2.0

By Julia Conley

Joined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Friday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders held the largest rally of any 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to date in Iowa, drawing more than 2,400 people to Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs.

Read More Show Less