California is drowning in the third most intense year of a serious drought. It’s been the three driest consecutive years ever recorded in the state’s history.
More than 55 percent of California is experiencing exceptional drought, leaving local agencies struggling to find more permanent supplies and temporary solutions, according to a report released by the United States Drought Monitor.
It’s been called the worst drought in California history and that may be the case. The major issue of concern is the evaporating storage levels.
“One of the reasons it’s the worst drought in history is because of the low precipitation, the low snowpack and rainfall that we’ve had in northern California and in San Diego,” said Dana Friehauf, a water resource specialist at San Diego County Water Authority. “For this reason the reservoir levels are very low.”
Friehauf says Lake Oroville, a major reservoir on the state water project, is currently at 26 percent capacity. It hasn’t been close to that number since 1977, when it reached a record low of 25 percent.
“That’s water that we rely on and it continues to be dry,” Friehauf said.
As the state is forced to deal with its new dry reality, cities are scrambling to diversify their water supply. The city’s strangled water supply is a real problem that San Diegans are faced with as the $1.8 billion agriculture industry and local businesses are thirsty for new water sources.
One of the main issues is that San Diego county’s water supply can only support a population of 500,000, but about 3 million people live in the county, according to Friehauf.
San Diego’s parched landscape is pressuring residents and business owners to take their creativity to new heights as they try to find new ways to save water.
How craft breweries are tapping into conservation
Businesses are also slowing down their faucets when it comes to their water usage. As a central hub for all things craft beer, San Diego brewers are looking more closely at the way they use their liquid assets.
Stone Brewery is one of the craft breweries in the city that is spearheading the effort to conserve water. On a daily basis the company uses about 150,000 gallons of water per day and recycles up to 35,000 gallons of it according to Tim Suydam, senior water operations manager.
“It’s been Stone’s commitment since the very beginning,” Suydam said. “We’re looking at every aspect possible to minimize the impact the brewing process has on the environment.”
Joel Grosser, director of brewing operations, says the brewery analyzes how much water they use to make a gallon of beer on a weekly basis.
“The drought plays a factor in how conscious we are about our water usage,” Grosser said. He estimates that four and half gallons of water are used for each gallon of beer made.
VIDEO: Stone Brewery in Escondido, California, considers sustainability and preserving water to be some of its biggest priorities. Here are some ways the brewery looks to save and cut back on water during the beer-making process.
Blooming gardens in the midst of drought
One local businesswoman is finding a way to rise above the drought and deliver water-saving gardens. Linda Bresler is a local landscape designer that has her own business, Living Designs by Linda. She creates gardens for clients with plants that are drought tolerant. Her clients range from San Diego State University to local residents.
Bresler has seen major results when it comes to saving water and money. She says that a drought resistant garden can help homeowners have anywhere from one half to two thirds on their water bill.
SLIDESHOW: Photos of drought-tolerant plants in Linda Bresler’s home garden in Poway, California and San Diego State University in San Diego, California. All photos by Michelle Monroy.
The plants that Bresler installs are very low maintenance like succulents that store water in its stems and leaves. They typically only need watering once a week. “If you baby these plants you’re going to kill them with love so they really like bad soil, low water and no fertilizer,” Bresler said.
MULTIMEDIA: Bresler is an expert when it comes to drought-tolerant plants. She experiments with plants by planting some in the shade and some in the sun to see how they change colors. She designs drought-tolerant landscapes for homes and businesses.
New water restrictions
With a dwindling water supply and about 1.2 million housing units to serve, the city’s water department has set up mandatory regulations in order to help persuade people to conserve water.
Starting in November, the city entered a new phase of the water conservation plan. The San Diego City Council voted unanimously at the end of October to implement mandatory restrictions. The city is upgrading from Level 1, “drought watch” to Level to 2 “drought alert,” meaning the city will be putting more restrictions on top of the existing permanent restrictions.
Robyn Bullard, a spokesperson for the San Diego Public Utilities Department, says limiting outdoor watering is usually the first reaction public agencies have when they need to cut back because it’s where people use the most water.
“Some people that have lawns don’t know that you don’t have to water five days a week, so they overwater,” Bullard said. “These restrictions give them something to go by like a baseline.”
To enforce these restrictions, the city is using a complaint-driven system, where concerned residents can call and report water misusage to a water hotline. After receiving a complaint, the city then sends a letter to the transgressor and tell them about the water restrictions and issue a warning. If there is a follow up complaint, the city would then call or make a visit.
“But the people typically by and large will comply right away because they don’t want to get fined and they also usually don’t even know they were doing anything wrong,” Bullard said.
So far the city has received roughly 400 complaints but has not issued any citations or fines. The city is also hiring for more field representatives to help deal with the complaint system, according to Bullard.
Diversifying San Diego’s water woes
As it stands now, the city depends almost completely on its imported water from the Colorado River and northern California.
The city is trying to lessen its dependence on its imported water supply through program called Pure Water San Diego, which is designed to create a reliable and drought proof drinking water supply. The program is expected to take 20 years to implement.
This program will recycle, filter, and clean waste water from home and businesses into a drinkable water.
When the program was first introduced, it was coined the toilet to tap project. But San Diegans are warming up to the sewage turned drinkable water project. In mid November, the City Council approved the program unanimously.
According to Friehauf, under Pure Water the water is treated to an even higher level than what they call tertiary treatment. Then that water is blended with reservoir water or groundwater and treated again, then put into the distribution system.
Despite the growing efforts of San Diegans to become more water friendly and the programs the city is pumping out to help diversify water sources there’s still an ocean of progress to be made.
“We’re still below average and this winter isn’t starting off well,” Friehauf said. “We’re not getting the rainfall here or up in northern California so it’s really important for people to conserve.”