Where does all the rain go?
This winter has seen Southern California inundated with larger than normal amounts of rain. An atmospheric river which starts far out in the Pacific ocean has been throwing repeated storms at the west coast of America. In California, this increase in rainfall has been doing its best to fill reservoirs and add to the snow caps. These reservoirs store water for use by the rest of the state later on in the year when the rain has long since stopped falling.
The wet weather, while causing commuters much chagrin, has been hugely beneficial. “California is drought-free for the first time since Dec. 20, 2011,” said the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which jointly produces the monitor with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This is a big deal, as the melting snow is what provides one third to one half of our yearly water. Because of the snow, Californians won’t have to rely upon imported water as much as in the past.
In the more arid parts of Southern California, the precipitation has been falling at historic levels. Records that have stood for over a hundred years were being broken in the month of February and March. With all this rain, inquisitive minds might ask, “where does all the rain go?” The answer might not come as a surprise. Most of it is expertly diverted away from large population centers and moved towards the ocean. While this is the safest way to deal with a torrential downfall, it doesn’t allow water to enter groundwater reserves and aquifers.
Only a very small percentage of rain, under 8%, will end up soaking into the ground with over 80% quickly flowing to the ocean. Because cities don’t capture much rain, a large metropolis like Los Angeles imports nearly 90% of the freshwater that they use. But city officials are starting to make efforts to capture more and more rainwater. Measure W was recently passed by popular vote, and will raise a tax to capture, treat, and recycle rainwater. Individual water districts have been handing out rain barrels. There are also numerous other future projects that aim to reclaim and reuse this liquid gold. Whether you are a homeowner or a renter there are various things you can do to play your part.
In summary, the snow in mountains gets trapped in the snowcap, while most rain that falls in cities is emptied into the ocean. Since nearly all of us live in cities, we need to continue to minimize water use, just because California is technically out of a drought, there may not be this much water in future seasons, leading right back to a drought. Best use practices, such as shorter showers and water efficient appliances, brought about by rationing are not going to be obsolete. There are a myriad of possible solutions to aid in water conservation, they will be explored further in future blog posts. We need to all do our best to use water wisely for today and for future generations to enjoy.
By Jeremy Brown