Sunday, July 19, 2009

Drought News

Our last water bill announced drought water restrictions. Our baseline allocation is based upon a percentage of of our water usage in 2003-2006, the years before our current drought. If they had announced that earlier, we would have curbed our water usage in 2007.

Like I wrote before, we did not decrease our water usage during the drought because we feared we would be punished with an even lower allocation once mandatory water restrictions went into effect*. We had been punished for lowering our electricity usage in 2000, before everyone else.

(It is so unfair that I get a smaller water allowance than my neighbor who ran a car wash and detail business in his driveway during those years--with the effluent going into the storm drain and Santa Monica Bay.)

Fortunately, Since 2003, we have installed synthetic turf in our backyard and replaced our dishwasher, clothes washer and shower heads with ones that use less water. We've also stopped siphoning our fountain water into the storm drain when we clean it out (~monthly). We scoop it up in buckets and use the algae-laden water to deep soak our camellias and ferns. Additionally, the water in our master bath takes a circuitous route worthy of Rube Goldberg. I've been saving the ~2 gallons of cold water that come out before the hot water in a bucket for Iris' bath.

The targets will still be difficult to attain. During a drought, less water falls from the sky. That means vegetation needs more irrigation. We were responsible citizens during the wetter years. We watered our yard only twice a week and we shut off the sprinklers/drip irrigation if it rained in the past 3 days.

What are you doing to conserve water?

2003-2006 includes the driest and the second wettest years on record in LA. But there appears to be some controversy about that because the official LA weather station was moved in 1999. According to JPL climatologist Dr. Bill Patzert:
"The move from downtown Los Angeles to USC in 1999 has caused a major hiccup in our local climate history," said Patzert. "Suddenly, Los Angeles became dryer and cooler, and we were denied a record rain year in 2004-2005. The magnitude of change reflected in our study strongly suggests this relocation will bias long-term climatic studies."

This is hardly the first move of the downtown Los Angeles weather station, but it is by far the largest, and the first to move the station away from the built-up city center. The station was moved from the roof of a two-story parking structure at the Department of Water and Power building near city center at an elevation of almost 90 meters (270 feet), to a park-like environment on the USC campus with tall shade trees and grass at an elevation of almost 60 meters (180 feet).

The National Weather Service moved the station as part of a nationwide effort to locate all official weather stations on ground-level sites in natural settings. The Department of Water and Power site remained operational, however, allowing the direct comparisons used by Patzert and his colleagues.
There's more interesting news in the scientific literature about the impact of irrigation upon LA climate. But it deserves a separate post. The old fogeys who complain that the South Bay weather is much colder, cloudier and foggier than 40 years ago are right!

LA monthly rain statistics from 1921-2006
Downtown LA rainfall, 1877-1878 through 2008-2009 water years

Some news outlets are reporting an El Nino forming. I've been watching the SSTs (Sea Surface Temperature) Anomalies (departure from climatological mean), and it appears that they have been decreasing between June and July. I think it is too early to call it.

NOAA Current Operational SST Anomaly Charts for the year 2009

Fleet Numerical's (Navy) most recent SST and SST anomaly analyses
Skiers may want to pay special attention to SST anomalies. El Nino years are associated with a more active southern storm track. La Nina years are associated with a more active northern storm track. This is important when making ski reservations for the upcoming winter.

The boundary between the two falls roughly near I-70 in Colorado. Steamboat Springs is definitely on the northern storm track and Winter Park, slightly north of I-70, appears to be the southernmost ski resort on the northern storm track. Aspen and Telluride are definitely on the southern storm track.

The LA Rainfall series
US Drought Monitor from

* Remember when the chief of VW told shareholders not to worry about future fleet mileage requirements? VW was ready to instantly improve gas mileage across the board by 20% by uploading different software to their cars.

Does that mean they were purposely shipping inefficient cars? Should I have been hosing down my driveway like some of my neighbors in order to get a higher water allocation?


  1. Our targets are set by what the previous owners of our house did, and on the evidence of our generous targets, I'd say they didn't worry much about water. So we're trying to do better than our targets.

    We collect the cold water before our showers into buckets and use that to help keep our backyard greenish. We also capture Pumpkin's bathwater- she still bathes in a big plastic tub, so Hubby dumps that into a bucket and takes it out to the lawn.

    Our water restrictions right now limit how much we can water the lawn. We are well under the restrictions, and our yard doesn't look too bad thanks to the buckets.

    We bought a low water use washing machine when we moved in. Next steps are to rip out the grass in the front yard and put in some native landscaping and to replace our dishwasher with a lower water use model. The main things preventing these steps from happening is time- we have the money set aside. I think that it is sad that we can't find the time for such important things, but there is only so much time in our days and there are a lot of important things to do.

  2. BAM at Breathing Treatment ripped out his lawn and put in a meadow of native plants.

    He also ripped out his driveway to put in permeable pavers to reduce runoff.

    Check it out!

  3. Thanks for the links, Bad Mom!

    On water, I've found Emily Green's blog to be of interest.

  4. My little water company recently announced plans for rationing - but planned to base their rationing targets off of historic usage without setting a minimum threshold for satisfactory use thereby penalizing users who have been conserving all along.

    I wrote the CPUC and the water company and blogged about it here:

    I noticed on my last bill that we're now in the first stage of rationing: voluntary 10% cutback. There was no indication that my suggestion to set a minimum acceptable use was considered.

  5. I am lost for words (well, not quite) - how stupid is that system? You penalise people who were using less water to start with??

    Our water restrictions are the same for everybody - no watering lawns, no hosing down outside areas, no filling swimming pools (unless you can demonstrate that you have saved an equivalent amount of water around the home), gardens can only be watered twice a week and only certain types of irrigation systems can be used, and no washing cars with a hose.

    We have a voluntary target for EVERYONE of 155 litres a day per person.

    I just can NOT understand why anyone would think a system that penalised people who have already tried to cut back their water use is a good idea.

    Oh, and we're saving water - we've got all AAA rated taps, AAA rated washing machine, and a water-saving shower-head, we don't water the garden at all (although we are about to get a grey water system that will take the water from our washing machine and shower and put it on the garden, we share the bath water if we have a bath, we follow the "if it's yellow, let it mellow" rule with the toilet, and when we rinse the teapot, coffee pot or vegetables, I catch the water in a tub and use it on our plants.


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