Drought literally hits home as Californians are forced to make lifestyle changes

Updated: 2015-07-22 11:02

(China Daily USA)

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The record-breaking drought the Golden State is currently suffering from, and the mandatory water-conservation measures the government has imposed have reshaped the lifestyles of Californians, somehow in a good way.

The drought has become a common topic at family gatherings and workplaces. Coping with the drought has become ingrained in residents, including my 7-year-old son. "Should I skip my shower tonight to save some water?" he asked one day, frowning.

A historically severe drought has plagued California this year. According to survey results from the California Department of Water Resources, the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which usually provides 33 percent of the state's water supply after it melts, in April was measured at 0 inches.

In 2012, the official measurement showed more than 15 inches of snow, compared with 49 inches in 2013 and 12 in 2014.

The drought has created an extremely parched landscape statewide. With historically low precipitation, rapidly dwindling reservoirs and tens of thousands households on the brink of a water crisis, Governor Jerry Brown in January declared a state of emergency and imposed strict conservation measures.

The governor's plan to cut overall water usage by 25 percent would include replanting 50 million square feet - or the equivalent of 900 football fields - of California lawns with landscapes that don't consume much water.

Commercial entities, such as golf courses, swimming pools, cemeteries and universities will have to reduce their water usage. Water utilities also raised rates on commercial water usage to discourage waste.

In response to a seemingly apathetic public that ignored repeated government pleas to save water (water usage statewide increased by 1 percent in May), California officials on July 15 approved the drastic measures to reduce water consumption, including fines of up to $500 per day in some cases for watering a garden, washing a car or hosing down a sidewalk.

"People really don't understand the gravity of the drought, particularly in urban California, where people are hundreds of miles from their water source," said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board.

According to the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance prepared by the California Department of Water Resources and adopted by the Water Commission in July, new California yards and commercial landscaping installed after Dec 1 have to use up to one third less water on average. The model ordinance effectively limits lawns in commercial settings to specific functions, such as recreation and public assembly; requires efficient sprinkler nozzles in landscape irrigation systems, and with few exceptions, bans turf in street medians and parkways.

My friends have shared household wisdom through social media. For example, have those leaks fixed and replace your shower head with a more efficient one, and you can save more than 20 gallons of water a day.

Also, if you decrease the length of your shower by a minute, you'll save 2.5 gallons of water. Assuming you shower every day, that means 750 fewer gallons of water used per month.

Luo Ping, a senior financial officer at a tech company in San Jose, said it has been her ritual to gather water from sinks, tubs and washing machines and reuse it for lawn and garden irrigation.

"Carrying the gray water from my son's tub to the backyard becomes so meaningful each night," said Luo. "I will keep doing so even after the drought fades away some day."

In my home, I encourage every family member to turn off the faucet sooner, get out of the shower a little faster, and do laundry only when there is a full load.

Contact the writer at junechang@chinadailyusa.com