“We cannot solve our problems at the same level of thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein
Across the western U.S., governors have declared droughts for areas that are “abnormally dry.” The word “drought” suggests an unusual and unpredictable emergency. But dry periods are not news. As the graphic above shows (source of graphic here), parts of states like Los Angeles, California have typically experienced long dry periods, followed by abnormally wet weather. What is new is that climate change will exacerbate both extremes - the dry periods will be longer and drier, and wet periods will be wetter.
Nationwide, communities in both wet climates and dry are already facing depleted and polluted surface and groundwater, flooding, and outdated sewage treatment facilities. What happens on land is directly impacting the health of our coast and ocean. We need immediate measures that plan for the future.
This is the time for government agencies to work together, and with the non-profit and private sector, to support a holistic approach that creates climate appropriate landscapes, captures rainwater as a resource, and recycles wastewater. Surfrider Foundation’s Clean Water Initiative (CWI) takes this holistic approach. It prioritizes natural and small-scale techniques so everyone, everywhere can be part of the solution. By working together, we can reduce water use, water pollution, runoff and flooding. We get additional benefits of sponging up greenhouse gases, creating native wildlife habitat, and even local food production.
Here are some good and bad ways to respond to the drought and address our water issues: on your property, to promote as government policy, and to share with private-sector professionals.
Ocean Friendly Gardens (and Farms) – In addition to reducing and re-using water indoors, we can reduce demand outdoors by applying CPR - Conservation, Permeability and Retention - to landscapes. Capture rainwater as a first source of irrigation, build healthy soil, and use climate appropriate plants and efficient irrigation technology. Ocean Friendly Gardens naturally prevent and cleanse runoff and help sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Read more here.
Green Streets – Apply CPR to hard surfaces, creating green spaces in streets, parkways and parking lots to absorb and filter water before it gets to a storm drain. This also helps reduce flooding and erosion of riverbanks. Read more here.
Recycle Wastewater – “Waste” and “water” should never be used in the same phrase. Clean “wastewater” and recycle it through groundwater re-charge, reservoir augmentation or directly into municipal water supply systems, as progressive communities are already starting to do. Where this is not yet set up, reuse water at home with simple laundry-to-landscape or more elaborate greywater systems. Reuse water indoors (shower water to help flush toilets) and reduce use (composting toilets) so less goes to a treatment plant. Click here for tips. Read more here.
Rush to ocean water desalination – Desalination should be the last resort, not the first. Desalination is extremely expensive, harms marine life and also uses an excessive amount of energy, fueling the climate change that may be causing our extreme weather. Read more here.
Turn back environmental laws – calls for diverting more water from streams are unsustainable and environmentally destructive. Read more here. And as it turns out, the preferred options for sustainable water supplies also help reduce the cost of complying with the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act – and more.
Waste rainwater – During rainstorms, water flows off of roofs, driveways, parking lots, and streets into storm drains, creeks and rivers - sending BILLIONS OF GALLONS of rainwater to the ocean, along with the pollutants the water picks up. This also happens on dry days: from broken sprinklers, sprinklers spraying onto streets, and more. Read more here.
The three “Do’s” are part of our Clean Water Initiative. In addition, our Blue Water Task Force Program tests water to identify sources of pollution and advocate for solutions.
OFG and green streets – Paul Herzog, firstname.lastname@example.org, 310-430-9760
Wastewater recycling – Rick Wilson, email@example.com, 949-581-0292
National legislation & water quality monitoring – Mara Dias, firstname.lastname@example.org, 631-902-9230
Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Gardens videos ("Resources" tab)
Surfrider’s Clean Water Program movie: "The Cycle Of Insanity"