Vol 57 No. 6 | Mar. 2005
Vol 57 No. 6 | Mar. 2005
Raby Says Despite Heavy Rains,
Drought Conditions Still In Place
Namika Raby knows about water. Researching it abroad since 1986 – and in California since the mid-1990s – she has developed a much greater appreciation for just how precious a commodity water really is.
“I was probably not as aware of it (water being wasted) before I studied it,” said Raby, a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, who has most recently studied water in Imperial County. “Now I see it more and I feel a little guilty and I do try to be careful. Then I did not know that average person in a single family home uses 150 gallons of water each day, or that water wasted when water runs while brushing your teeth is two to three gallons. Did you know that turning off water while shaving saves approximately 1.5 gallons per faucet for each minute it runs?” Raby figures are courtesy the Metropolitan Water District (MWD).
“I have lived in California since 1973 and then I started my research in 1986, but that was abroad,” said Raby. “I came back to California in 1990 and that is when I became more aware that we don't have enough water and I thought ‘why have I not studied this before?' because it is critical to our very existence here.”
The current rainy season in the Los Angeles area, which began in October, has rainfall measuring more than 26 inches, well over the annual average of 17. Many Californians may think that amount is more than enough to squelch any talk of drought. Not so, said Raby, who noted that while things are indeed better, a dry spell that could affect the local water supply lurks just around the corner.“The recent rain is good because now this is not going to be one of those dry years, but that doesn't mean that we've had enough and we're okay,” said Raby. “The U.S.G.S. (United States Geological Survey) and the Department of Water Resources have maintained records for more than 100 years. It's much more likely to be dry for three to five years than wet. I think 1998 was a rainy season with 21 inches and 2001 was one of our driest, so we go through years when it's really dry and then every so often we have a wet season. But, if you look at the rainfall pattern we just don't know. The 'drought' will not be over anytime soon. Just because we've had a lot of rain, that still doesn't mean that we shouldn't worry about water.”
According to Raby, the state is divided into hydrologic regions and Long Beach is in the South Coast Hydrologic Region from Ventura to San Diego, which has received some of the heaviest rains.
“The state's current water plan puts a lot of responsibility on the local hydrologic regions,” said Raby. “The southern district is suppose to be self-reliant, use water better, improve water quality and try not to bring more in from the outside. So, all in all, we need to manage what we have because we are really depending on outside water.”
So then, one might ask, what does happen to all the water that comes from the heavy rains?
“Nothing disappears,” assured Raby. “It's all funneled and recycled back into plants, or the soil, or in our case, ground water. We rely on groundwater extraction for a good part of our water supply and often overdraw. So, the current rainfall will help groundwater levels recover. We have some reservoir capacity and the rainfall is helpful here as well. The Diamond Valley Lake holds enough water to meet emergency needs of our current population for six months.
“Water that soaks into the ground is not lost in that it evaporates when the sun comes out and plants retain moisture and this is released through transpiration,” continued Raby. “All this water vapor rises into the air and eventually returns as precipitation. Given that on a statewide basis about 65 percent of precipitation is consumed through these two ways, it can be expected that a large share of our current local rain will also be similarly used. So, nothing is really lost in water unless it becomes polluted, but barring that, it gets recycled.”
Raby doesn't have a fear that someday she'll turn on the water tap in her home and get nothing. But, she warns, we need to make sure we manage what water we do have efficiently.
“Our current rain has to be seen as part of the water issue for the whole state,” she said. “We must see it through not only past multi-year droughts for which there are measured historical records, but also sources like tree ring data some of which have pointed to periods of extensive droughts more severe and prolonged than the currently recorded droughts of three to five years.
“I think Southern California is quite aware of this issue,” said Raby. “You know, we are very good about coming up with better ways to manage water. We have water recycling. Then we have desalination, but that has its own cost and then how do you deposit all that salt? That's an environmental issue. Technology is advancing on how to do it better and cheaper. Then we have other ways of storing water underground, marketing it, transferring it, and water banking. It's not so much what we are doing now, because we are doing it well, but we need to continue.”
Remembering drought periods where there was community control, Raby would also encourage self-monitoring since she truly believes every little bit helps.
“Back then people went around on bikes and even cars to circle the neighborhood to see who was watering their lawn or washing their car in the driveway, because you weren't suppose to do that,” she said. “The next thing you knew they would come and cite you and give you a fine.”
When in comes to water supply, one of Raby's main concerns is population growth in the southern part of the state. Nearly half the state's population is in the southern region (18.5 million) and forecasts indicate that, by 2030, it could be as high as 27 million.
“If we aren't going to get more water from the outside,” said Raby, “we have to figure out how we going to manage what we have within the region. One other thing that happens when it rains is that some water agencies, like the Metropolitan Water District, store water in underground basins and then give it to you when you need it later. That's a form of water banking. It's amazing the kinds of things Southern California has done in order to store and transfer and bank and recycle and so on. We need to do more and since the population is going to increase we need to be ready for what's going to come.”
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