“5 Ways to Save Water in a Drought”

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During one of California’s most severe droughts on record, we are all trying to look for ways to conserve water. From simple changes in behavior to large landscape projects, there are many ways to do your part to save water. Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind and ways to contribute to the cause.

  1. Identify problem areas.

If you are not sure where to start, some water districts have water assessments or calculators to see how much water you currently use and ways to reduce your water usage. They review your water usage, provide faucet aerators and high efficiency showerheads if needed, and suggest water efficiency improvements. Santa Clara Valley Water District provides free Water Wise House Calls to identify ways to save water. San Mateo County and San Francisco County also have free water evaluation programs for residential customers.  The City of Palo Alto offers a complimentary advisor service called Home Efficiency Genie that allows residents to schedule a no-cost phone consultation with a certified water and energy expert to discuss their efficiency concerns. Schedule your free house call today, or check with your local water company to determine what programs are available.

  1. Cut time from your morning routine.

An important strategy for conserving water is behavior change. Make sure to turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth or lathering your hands. Cut five minutes off your shower time and turn the water off while you soap up and shave. Installing faucet aerators and high efficiency showerheads in the kitchen and bathrooms is an inexpensive way to save water. Most local water companies will even provide these items at no charge.

  1. Wait for full washing loads.

Instead of running the dishwasher every night, wait until you have a full dishwasher to run it. The same goes for laundry. Always wash full loads of laundry even if your machine has an adjustable load size setting. Wash your clothes in cold water to save on energy usage. High efficiency clothes washers can save water and energy usage up to 40%. Rebates are available through PG&E and most Bay Area water agencies for new Energy Star high efficiency clothes washers.

  1. Check for leaks.

Leaks from water sources can be a silent way to waste gallons of water. If you turn off all of the water fixtures in your home and see a moving dial on your water meter, you have a leak. Check your sprinkler system and toilets for leaks to ensure you are not wasting water. For the toilets, drop a dye tablet in the tank. If you see any color in the bowl after 10 to 15 minutes, you have a silent leak. Change out the rubber flapper to stop the leak. Check with your local water district about rebates for high efficiency toilets. If your water district does not have any rebates, Save Our Water is a rebate program for residents across California and provides up to $100 for qualifying high efficiency toilets.

  1. Replace your lawn with drought resistant pants.

Drought resistant plants can be a beautiful and smart way to save on outdoor water usage. Several water districts including Solano, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Sonoma County provide rebates for replacing your lawn with landscapes that require much less water to maintain. The Bay Area Eco Gardens website has great resources, example photos, and plant lists for draught resistant landscaping.

Looking for other ways to save and be more efficient?

For Palo Alto residents, the Home Efficiency Genie is available to schedule customized energy and water assessments to reveal ways to improve your home’s overall efficiency.  Complimentary efficiency advisors are also available to analyze your utility bill and work with you to develop a customized roadmap for reducing your energy and water consumption. For more information about Home Efficiency Genie visit www.efficiencygenie.com or call 650-713-3411 to speak with an advisor today.

For Bay Area homeowners looking to conserve energy and interested in receiving up to $6,500 in rebates, the Bay Area Regional Energy Network (BayREN) provides complimentary access to Home Upgrade Advisors. Your advisor will work with you to identify ways to make your home more energy efficient and provide assistance throughout your efficiency project. For more information, visit www.bayareaenergyupgrade.org or call 866-878-6008 to talk with an advisor and learn more.

 

— Jeff Strauss, Program Manager at CLEAResult in San Mateo, California. 

From Drought to Downpour

 

An artist’s rendition of California’s flooded State Capitol circa 1862
An artist’s rendition of California’s flooded State Capitol circa 1862

“Extreme river and creek flooding has broken many records, and swept away hundreds of homes”  -CNN, May 2014

“The frequent sight of houses floating, air-like, along the swift current was novel indeed, some of them being upright, some bottom up” -Union Democrat, December 1861

Two similar quotes that strangely tie events from today into our roots from the past. The first quote is from present day Texas, where millions of dollars in infrastructure damage has lead the President to declare the event a major disaster. The second is a piece from our own state’s history, an event not often mentioned in the textbooks or the classroom.

If you grew up in Northern California you’ll undoubtedly remember being given a small pan filled with rocks and soil to sift through in search of that infamous, luminous element known as gold. But how many of you remember being told the stories of our state capitol underwater just a decade after we discovered gold, our own governor having to be rowed from his house to the capitol building for his inauguration, or of the thousands that lost their possessions, property, or even their lives because of a torrential downpour that lasted 43 days straight?

History of a hundred year storm

The flood of 1861-1862 started off as a welcomed rain after a major drought throughout the state. While Native Americans of the Delta and Bay Area warned the post-gold rush era settlers of the floods that were about to ensue, many newly established citizens and towns were ill-prepared for such an event. What started as a quenching relief for many farmers soon turned into their worst nightmare, as the Central Valley turned into an inland lake and swelling rivers took down entire towns, a quarter of the state’s livestock, and thousands of lives.

The floods were so bad that, after attempting to run the state from underwater, legislatures decided to move the capitol from Sacramento to San Francisco until it could recover. While San Francisco was in better shape that the inundated Central Valley, most of the low lying areas around the Bay were covered in water. During the peak of the storm, so much water poured in from the Delta that our Bay shorelines didn’t experience low tide for a week.

Haven’t heard of the 1861-1862 flood before? It’s OK, neither had I until I caught one of Joel Pomerantz’s natural history lectures, but surely this is something we Bay Area residents should be aware of considering this was not some freak event but rather a natural occurrence.

Due for another downpour

Every 100-200 years we get a visit from the deceptively named “Pineapple Express”, or stream of warm air and moisture that starts at the equator and makes its way up the West Coast. What most meteorologists refer to as Atmospheric Rivers, these streams of warm air and moisture are important in the global water cycle and can bring up to four times the annual rainfall amount to areas of California.

A deluge of rain may sound like relief given our current dry state, but the reality would be overwhelmingly damaging. Today one of these great storms is estimated to wrack up $10.4 billion dollars in damages, almost the cost of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.  What’s worse is that many of these damages would likely be to our shoreline infrastructure and low lying cities on the Bay.

A recent study calls for large scale restoration of San Francisco Bay’s wetlands to help prepare our communities for the next big storm. You see, wetlands act as natural buffers for our communities. One acre of wetlands can hold a million gallons of water – water that would otherwise be in our streets and at our doorsteps if these wetlands didn’t exist. Save The Bay has been working on restoration projects that further help protect our cities from the negative impacts of flooding and support clean Bay water.

While we can’t stop these large storms from occurring, we can educate and better prepare ourselves for when they do arrive. To learn more about the flood of 1861-1862 and what you can do to help support the Bay join us for a restoration event.

Drought Shows Stark Contrasts

I just got back from a week-long backpacking trip in the High Sierras, and what I saw shocked me.

It’s impossible to escape news that California is in the midst of a terrible drought, but it took spending five days in the backcountry of Inyo National Forest and Kings Canyon National Park to give me perspective on just how dire the water situation in our state really is.  Creeks and rivers that should be raging are barely ankle deep.  Peak summits that should be encased in snow and ice are exposed and dry.  As soon as I got home, I downloaded photos from the trip, and started looking online for photos from previous years.

Below are two photos – I took the one on top two weeks ago looking West from the shore of Summit Lake in Humphrey’s Basin, at an elevation of roughly 11,000 feet.  The one below was taken by a fellow backpacker almost exactly 4 years earlier, on July 6th of 2010, a nearly perfect “average” snow year based on data from the Department of Water Resources.  The contrast is indeed stark.

Summit Lake, July 2014
Summit Lake, July 2014
Summit Lake, July 2010
Summit Lake, July 2010. (Photo credit – user: OLI, www.easternsierraforum.com)

So we know there’s a drought, and we can see the difference in charts and graphs that show snowpack and river flows.  But living in urban communities there’s a gap between what we know, and our behavior.  After all, the water still comes out of our faucets just as fast, and the price we pay for residential water has barely nudged, leaving both our perceptions and our pocketbooks intact.  Without additional action, there is little beyond personal responsibility to motivate people to conserve.

Earlier this week, the State Water Resources Control Board approved stiff new fines for conservation scofflaws.  Californian’s caught wasting water – hosing down sidewalks instead of using a broom, over-watering landscaping – may now be subject to a $500 per day fine.  But as we’ve seen with other environmental issues like Save The Bay’s efforts to enforce outdoor smoking bans, regulation means little without consistent enforcement.

While it remains to be seen whether the recent emergency drought declaration by Governor Brown, or the State Water Board’s approval of fines will change behavior, there are still significant gaps in how we manage water in California.  Statewide management of groundwater resources continues to lag behind other western states (although an interesting new court ruling may change that).  And the Bay Delta region continues to be one of the longest standing bureaucratic and political messes in the state.

As the adage oft attributed to Mark Twain goes, “Whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting over.”

Cheers!

San Francisco Green Film Festival 2014

We’re excited to partner with the San Francisco Green Film Festival to co-present the film, Watermark, at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco on Sunday, June 1 2014 at 7:45 pm. The film is a visually stunning work that weaves together diverse global stories that show our relationship with water. The filmmakers’ message resonates within the San Francisco Bay Area in this time of severe drought, as it shows our dependence on and fight to control our most precious resource.

San Francisco Bay is an integral part of the Northern California’s watershed. The health of the Bay depends on the health of the overall water system which flows from the mountains west through the California Delta and out to the Bay.

You can check out the Green Film Festival’s other offerings and buy tickets here.

The festival runs from May 29-June 4 with robust programming for all who care about the environment and their place in it. The Green Film Festival was launched in 2011 to present new films and events that spotlight the worlds’ most urgent environmental issues and most innovative solutions. We hope to see you there.

News of the Bay: May 9, 2014

Check out this edition of News of the Bay for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay

4/22/2014
San Jose Mercury News
Failure of Warriors Waterfront Arena Latest in Long Line of Bay Development Defeats
The Golden State Warriors’ decision this week to abandon plans to build a new arena on piers along the San Francisco waterfront is not just a local development issue, but rather the latest example of a 40-year trend around San Francisco Bay.
No matter how rich or how politically connected, people who have proposed projects that environmentalists say are “filling the bay” or “walling off the bay” have nearly always seen those plans end in defeat.
Read More>>

News of the Bay

4/22/2014
San Francisco Chronicle
Warriors Find they Can’t Beat the Bay
The San Francisco Bay wins.
That’s what Joe Lacob and the Warriors learned. Their plans for a waterfront arena foundered, despite endless bluster, almost from the start of planning and now apparently have been abandoned.
Read More>>

5/7/2014
San Francisco Chronicle
Global Warming Threat to West Spelled out in Report
Dwindling water for farms, longer fire seasons and coastal flooding of homes and businesses await California as climate change intensifies, according to a federal report released Tuesday that details how global warming is damaging every region of the country.
The third National Climate Assessment, compiled over four years by more than 300 scientists at the direction of Congress, said California’s farm industry, which provides more than half the nation’s fruits, nuts and vegetables, is particularly vulnerable. So are many cities along the coast, including San Francisco, that are already experiencing flooding at high tides as sea levels rise.
Read More>>

5/6/2014
KGO Radio
Santa Clara Bans Styrofoam Containers
On May 6, The Santa Clara City Council voted to ban Styrofoam food containers. As one of the last large cities in the South Bay to take this step, this is a big deal. As of this week, 62% of Bay Area residents live in a community that has banned Styrofoam food ware. The Bay Area has made great progress on bag bans too. Right now 76% of Bay Area residents live under a plastic bag ban.
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