Opinion: Don’t Flush El Niño Down the Drain
Record rainfall can help end the drought — unless we let it all run out to sea
By William Hicks
Why are the most valuable things the least valued?
We’ll spend our most valuable commodity — time — at a job we don’t like, using up hundreds of hours to earn thousands of dollars for things we really don’t need.
At the same time, the air is free, although we wouldn’t last minutes without it; and water is still cheap, although we wouldn’t last days without that.
Why don’t we value these things? Because when we think something is limitless, we take it for granted — time, air, water. But fresh water isn’t limitless. Only 3% of the water on Earth is fresh water. Since 1913, Los Angeles has had water surging in, due to the efforts of people like William Mulholland, who brought drinking water from the Owens Valley. Before that people relied on groundwater and rainwater.
Well, now we’ve come full circle. Our need for groundwater and rainwater has returned.
Since 2013, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has been working on a Storm Water Capture Master Plan in the hope of doubling or even tripling its rain-capture capacity over a period of 20 years.
That may seem ambitious, but storm water capture and water recycling systems currently account for only 10% of L.A.’s water resources, compared to 86% in Israel. Avrahm Tenne, head of desalination at Israel’s water authority, recently told Southern California Public Radio that he would blame America’s drought problems on hodgepodge water management.
“There is no central management of the water sector in the United States — not even [individual] states!” he said. “Nobody is responsible for the water sector.”
DWP may beg to differ with Mr. Tenne on this, but water is too important a commodity for people to rely solely on others to handle it. Back in July, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Senior Water Scientist Jay Famiglietti wrote in a column for the Los Angeles Times that Southern California had only 12 to 18 months of available water left, barring some major snowfall up north this winter.
That should make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up! And it begs the question: Why does DWP think that we have the luxury of 20 years?
Will El Niño 2015-16 offer enough snowfall to save us? Nobody has a crystal ball, but some NASA scientists say the rains could mainly hit Southern California, which wouldn’t provide the kind of Northern California snowfall we need to quench the state’s thirst for years to come.
Which basically means that we would be on our own.
If you own property in Los Angeles, install gutters and rain barrels ASAP to catch that precious rain.
There’s always that landowner who has multiple properties but won’t spend a dime on them unless he or she is forced to do so. You want to shake that person and say, “Hey, your property needs some attention! What are you saving for, a rainy day? Guess what: the rainy days are coming.”
Please don’t be that kind of landowner.
This is believed to be California’s most severe drought in some 1,200 years, and we are expecting our biggest rainstorm this winter after 17 pretty dry years.
L.A. gets an average of 15 inches of rainfall per year, while El Niño could bring up to 30 inches in just a few months, according to an accuweather.com forecast.
A single storm in Los Angeles County can send up to 10 billion gallons of water rushing straight into the Pacific Ocean.
By my math, if every home in the Greater L.A. area had rain barrels, we could collect around 138 billion gallons of water from El Niño, which would buy us 276 more days of water, and
then 138 days for every year thereafter ad infinitum.
So dip into your bank account and get those gutters and rain barrels in place, Mr. Stingy, if for no other reason than to save money on your water bill.
Here in Marina del Rey, people are fixing their roofs, but I don’t see any rain barrels. I do see a few rain gutters here and there for practical reasons. According to a neighbor here at Mariners Village, several parking garages in the marina flooded during the last El Niño in 1997-98, the biggest (so far) in recorded history.
You can let the bank hold your money and invest it in whatever it is they invest in, or you can take responsibility for your own money, your own home, your community, and get those rain catchers in place — not because the city is requiring you to do so, but because it is the right and smart thing to do.
Let’s invest in our homes, offices, and local economy.
In North Africa, the Malibu-based nonprofit RainCatcher is harvesting rainwater in East Africa to provide clean drinking water to people who’ve really never had any. They’ve been doing this for a decade.
“There is no shortage of water given by nature,” says RainCatcher founder Mark Armfeld, “only a shortage of water being received efficiently by us.”