What the California Drought Actually Means (on a Global Scale as well as Local)


Also known as:

Why I Can Buy 30 Gallans of Water in Plastic Containers But Can’t Water My Plants For More than Three Hours

I come from California. Whenever I say that to a non-California they usually reply with a joke or question about our drought. This makes sense as my state has been on national news a lot lately because of its lack of water.

My Hawaiian cousin who now lives in Connecticut visited me this summer and he was amazed to see the drought in the forests of Northern California. He even revealed that he had no clue where we get our water or why the southern half of the state seems to be in a more extreme drought than other areas.

For my cousin, for everyone on the east coast, for those who call it Cali:

Southern California is in a severe drought because it’s a desert climate that sees less than an inch of rain some years. The past three years have been especially dry, some are calling it our most severe drought yet.

On the question of where southern California water comes from: 20% of our water is local. The other 80% comes from the Colorado River and a river Delta in northern Califonia. Both rivers are dealing with issues of pollution and species control.

What does all of this mean for the ecosystems of Southern California? Mostly it means that grass goes brown, restaurants don’t give you water unless you ask, and buckets come out to collect any rain water we get. Since this drought has become such a public circumstance of California, regulations have strictly increased to limit the amount of water use in residential areas. Residents have select time windows in which we are allowed to water our lawns and gardens. My front and back yard only see water max three times a week and only after the sun goes down. The more water your household uses the more expensive your water bill is. This process seems logical but the cost of water is already inflated in California so paying for water three times a week costs what others pay for water every day.

When I came to New York, a friend who also moved from California asked me if I loved showering in the city because I didn’t have to worry about wasting water, so in theory I could use as much water as I wanted. Until they said that, I hadn’t realized I was still taking the same length showers in New York as I did at home. Sometimes I’ll use a little too much (5 minutes too much) if I’m dying my hair or properly shaving my legs. I know this extra time would make me feel too guilty at home.

I’ve been trained to turn off the water when I brush my teeth, when I am walking  away from the dishes for a moment, when the 5 minute song I choose as a shower timer is over. I use buckets of shower and rain water to hydrate plants and flush the toliet (sometimes). I never let drinking water go to waste, I stay very hydrated. Dumping excess water from cooking is not an option, that little bit is meant for the ficus outside my front door. I learned to get nervous when the sprinklers came on or when I let the sink run too long. Saving water is a part of home.

In reality though, and this is so11066619_10152862148152568_7577675468209255188_nmething the news is failing to tell it’s audeinces, it’s not households that are wasting serious quantities of water. We use a propprtionate amount and we pay the steep price for it. It’s actually the oil industry and companies like Nestle that waste absurd amounts of water on a much grander scale than the households on regulation  in California.

I cannot come to terms with the damage the drought has done and will continue to inflict on the beautiful ecosystems of my home state. I’ve seen lakes dry and plants die and I’m tired of it. There a select few that hold all the water in their hands and they choose to squander it on creating more waste and destruction on this planet instead of sending it south to revitalize natural habitats and relieve the stress this drought has blanketed over southern California.

Besides spreading awareness and verbalizing my outrage over this skewed disrtibution of resources, there’s not much I can do to save my hometown and the state from turning brown.

So for now I’ve decided to embrace it. There’s beauty in all things and anything can be given a second life in some form…

This is a friend helping me finish up the last few lines on my first attempt at drought art.  In August my mom asked me if I could make something to cover up the sadness of our lifeless front yard.

This is that same lawn in April…


This is one home and it’s also just a lawn, not human life, but it’s still an uneccesary end to a piece of the environment I grew up in.

As we saw in the BBC story, the people of India suffer far greater losses due to poor water distribution in their cities. I wish I could do something for them, put them higher up on the magical mysterious list that sends the proper amount of aid to those that need it. When it comes down to it, California’s drought is small compared to India’s lack of clean water. I can still remain healthy and clean when I’m home. I don’t have to fear my water turning off all of the sudden when I need it most. I have always had excesses of water to drink and swim in. Drought does not mean disaster. If it is managed properly, drought can be tolerated and hopefully managed well enough so that some solution can be reached.

Lack of water is a genuine disaster. 

The Ganges is not the only river being decimated by pollution and India is not the only country suffering from this extremely limited and horribly managed resource. It’s time that those who control this natural resource stop and redirect the flow of water before it runs out. The future of this world’s supply of drinkable water is limited. People, climates, and ecosystems are already suffering. Not everyone can make art of their lack of water. That’s a privilege.