New Water-Saving Technologies Help Weather Drought, but More Innovation Is Needed
However, the reality is that this rainfall, as welcome as it was, was literally just a drop in the bucket. Many areas of the state, even with this latest rain, are 80 percent below their normal rainfall.
Yet, and quite surprisingly, the state appears to be weathering this drought fairly well. For those who remember, the last time California had a drought actually worse than this one was almost 40 years ago in 1977. Then, as today, virtually the entire state was impacted. But unlike today, very stringent water restrictions – much more severe than any now in place– were impacting residences as well as commercial facilities.
For instance, some households in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, were restricted to 44 gallons of water per person per day…60 gallons less per day than normal usage. Businesses and commercial facilities were asked to reduce water consumption by 57 percent. While many complied, reports after the restriction were lifted found that most were not able to meet the mandated cutbacks.
It was a very difficult period for the state, but, fortunately, more than adequate rainfall in 1978 and 1979 put an end to the drought. Water use soon returned to normal. But just 10 years later, the state was hit with another very dry period, starting about 1986 and lasting until 1991 and now we are in the current drought situation, which has been going on for about four years.
But this time, even if it does get worse, the state’s residents and businesses have and likely will continue to better endure this drought than in the past. There are two key reasons for this:
First, astute public officials and business people realized that droughts are no longer an anomaly in California – and in other parts of the US. They suspect the state will have more droughts of varying degrees of seriousness in years to come.
And secondly, new technologies not available in the 1970s or 1980s have been developed. These innovations not only reduce water consumption but have helped people in California and around the country become much more conscious of their water consumption.
Leadership, Planning, New Technologies
Public and business leaders over the years have developed “long-term” water conservation programs for California residents and businesses that are now being replicated in other parts of the US. These have helped stretch water supplies and have been so successful that many areas of the state are using about the same amount of water today as they were 10 and 20 years ago, even with population growth.
We also have many new water reducing technologies today that were likely not even considered 40 years ago. In the 1970s, few buildings installed aerators or similar devices to restrict the amount of water released from faucets. Today, the installation of aerators is one of the most significant and inexpensive steps a commercial facility can take to reduce water consumption. The typical faucet releases about three gallons of water per minute; with an aerator installed, this can be reduced to as much as 0.5 gallons per minute.
In the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s, toilets typically used more than three gallons of water per flush, sometimes as much as five. Replacing these toilets with high-efficiency toilets or dual flush toilets, not available years ago, can save California and the country “nearly two billion gallons per day across the country…[and] save a family of four, on average, $2,000 in water bills over the lifetime of the toilets,” according to the EPA.
Three and four decades ago, urinals used 2.5 to more than three gallons of water per flush. Now low flow urinal systems release about one gallon of water, and no-water urinals use none whatsoever. Here in California and around the country, they are found in office buildings and schools, even very high-end hotels.
Finally, for commercial facilities with landscaping, automatic drip-type irrigation systems – another new technology – are helping consumers and building owners reduce water consumption considerably. With these systems, spray heads are eliminated and water is delivered directly to the roots of plants and vegetation. Some of these systems also come with “rain” and soil moisture sensors so that irrigation is only released when and as needed.
Hoping for the Best
California just had a wonderful rainfall event, and everyone here is hoping for more. The next positive step would be a “normal” winter with adequate rainfall here and throughout most of the Western US. But, if it’s another very dry year, things could get very serious for the state’s businesses, commercial buildings, and residents. More than ever, we will need the help of astute leaders and new technologies to help us succeed in 2015 and beyond.
Niki Bradley is a manager for Waterless Co., Inc. She can be reached through her company website at www.waterless.com.
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