California faces another "critically dry year" according to state officials, and a destructive wildfire season looms on its horizon. But in a state that welcomes innovation, water efficacy approaches and drought management could replenish California, increasingly threatened by the climate's new extremes.
The Sierra Nevada snowpack supplies the state with 30 percent of its water supply. But on Tuesday, California's Department of Water Resources recorded a snow depth of 56 inches and water content of 21 inches at Phillips Station – 61 percent of the average for March 2 and 54 percent of the average for April 1, when it's at its maximum, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The state's largest reservoirs – responsible for maintaining the state's water supply throughout the year – also experienced low levels this year, storing only about 38 percent and 68 percent of their capacity, according to The Guardian.
"With below-average precipitation across the state, California's reservoirs are starting to see the impacts of a second consecutive dry year," said Sean de Guzman, the department's chief of snow surveys and water supply forecasting, according to The Guardian.
These effects are being felt across the state. During the city's wettest months of December, January and February, L.A. received just 2.44 inches of the expected 3.12 inches of rain, the Los Angeles Times reported. At the same time Northern California remains in one of the worst two-year rain deficient since the Gold Rush of 1849 – its precipitation at only 30 percent to 70 percent of a normal year, The Guardian reported.
Three to five winter storms supply California's snowpack and reservoirs with water. But the state's dependency on these few winter storms makes it especially vulnerable when they occur less frequently, The Guardian reported.
"In years where you miss out on one or two of those, you're probably going to struggle to get close to normal," John Abatzoglou, a climatology researcher at the University of California, Merced, told The Guardian, who added that the state is increasingly living in extremes – either experiencing abnormally heavy rain or no rain at all. "We're banking on a miracle March or awesome April to dig out of this hole... In all likelihood, we're going to end the water year with another dry year."
The dry winter not only invites a destructive wildfire season but comes with a heavy price tag for the state's agricultural industry. Between 2012-2016, for example, the state experienced a drought that cost $2.7 billion in losses for the industry, and more than 18,000 lost jobs, The Guardian reported. This drought also killed about 102 million forest trees.
"Our state's water future remains uncertain due to the variability in precipitation and changing climate," Guzman said, according to the Los Angeles Times. Now more than ever, new approaches to water efficacy are necessary. Fortunately, new ideas are plentiful in a state that is often celebrated for its sustainable policy.
One solution, for example, could include paying Californians to conserve water as a cost-effective way to reduce energy consumption, Sammy Roth, a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times wrote in the newsletter Boiling Point.
Water and electricity go hand-in-hand in California. "Nearly one-fifth of electricity use in California goes to transporting and treating water. And nearly one-third of non-power plant natural gas use is water-related, primarily water heating," Roth wrote, mentioning the state's complex water projects that include systems "of reservoirs, aqueducts, power plants and pumping plants extending more than 700 miles."
Based on research that looked at what happened if the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power paid people to use less electricity rather than less water, the researchers concluded "that paying for water conservation can actually be a more cost-effective way to slash energy consumption than paying for energy conservation," Roth added.
In a drier, hotter and rapidly changing climate, that brings new weather extremes to the state each year, water conservation is imperative for California and the nearly 40 million that call it home. "It's more critical than ever that Californians adopt sustainability, embrace new approaches and emerging technologies and work together to save water for a secure future," Guzman added, according to The Guardian.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
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The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
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Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.