- Feb 12:
- Contra Costa Times editorial: Water districts should impose conservation measures now
- Oakland Tribune editorial: Water districts should impose conservation measures now
- Feb 7:
- California Drought: Desperately needed rain, courtesy of "Pineapple Express" slamming into California
- Feb 6:
- Drought doesn't mean doom for your plants
- Rain soaks Bay Area, another storm coming
- California drought: Big rain headed toward Bay Area could double dismal rainfall totals
- Feb 5:
- California drought: How bad is it?
- California drought: House water bill exposes deep partisan divide
- Feb 4:
- Fremont district urges conservation, offers water-saving program as drought persists
- Gov. Jerry Brown calls congressional Republican drought bill 'divisive'
- Roadshow: Caltrans watering less as drought continues
- Feb 3:
- North Bay homeowners slash water usage through creative conservation
- California drought: Biggest rainfall of 2014 soaks Bay Area
- Jan 31:
- California drought: State Water Project will deliver no water this summer
- Gov. Brown says flush less as California struggles with drought
- Drought shakes off winter for perilous early spring
- Jan 30:
- Obama pledges support amid California drought
- California wine industry reports robust 2013, but worries loom about drought
- Drizzle brings hope to thirsty California but does nothing to deter drought
- Jan 29:
- Bay Area wakes up to drizzle as light rain appears for first time in more than a month
- Zone 7 Water Agency seeks 20 percent voluntary water reduction from customers
- Jan 28:
- California drought: 17 communities could run out of water within 60 to 120 days, state says
- Jan 27:
- Water oak trees if needed, but not too much
- Rain expected this week won't put dent in the drought, forecasters say
- Gold prospectors take advantage of California drought
- California drought: Bay Area water districts start asking urban residents to conserve
- Jan 26:
- After decades of payments, EBMUD may finally use its emergency water supply
- Jan 25:
- California drought: Past dry periods have lasted more than 200 years, scientists say
- Jan 23:
- Around Dublin: Do your part now to get ahead of drought
- Jan 22:
- Drought: California is a red state, if you're talking weather
- Jan 18:
- Snow makers rescue big Sierra resorts as drought bakes smaller ones
- Jan 17:
- Brown declares California drought emergency
- California drought: Three more months of dry weather likely, National Weather Service announces
- Jan 16:
- Drought declared a natural disaster in California, 10 other states
- Jan 14:
- Drought imperils California salmon, steelhead
- California drought: What's causing it?
- Jan 10:
- Despite California drought, chances for water bond are evaporating
- Jan 8:
- Timm Herdt: Learning to adapt to droughts
- Jan 3:
- Barnidge: California droughts aren't nearly as scary as they used to be
- Dec 29:
- California drought deepens as another year's rains stay away
Like big earthquakes and budget deficits, droughts are a part of life in California that seem to come back around every decade or so.
Remember not flushing the toilet? Putting a bucket in the shower? It's time to dust off those tips, as California finds itself in a brutally dry spell. On Friday, following the lowest rainfall year in the state's 163-year history, and with the Sierra snow pack at 17 percent of normal, Gov. Jerry Brown called a drought emergency and asked California residents to cut their water use by 20 percent.
That's not so difficult, experts say. Fixing leaks in household faucets and toilets, and reducing lawn irrigation can get most families to the goal.
"It's pretty easy to save 20 percent. You want to remember that your plants -- even with it being dry outside -- are not needing as much water this time of year because it is cooler than in the summer," said Chris Brown, former executive director of the California Urban Water Conservation Council, a nonprofit group in Sacramento. "The easiest way to save water is to save it outdoors."
In California, more than 50 percent of residential water use occurs outdoors. A typical lawn consumes about 57 inches of rain a year, according to the Association of California Water Agencies. Rain quenches some of that thirst, but it's not enough in most places. Both San Jose and Los Angeles receive 15 inches of rain in a normal year, for example, but last year each received barely 3 inches.
Sprinklers make up the difference. A small lawn of 1,000 square-feet takes about 35,000 gallons of water per year, according to the association. Many homeowners over-water, particularly in the winter, and end up using twice that amount.
Water agencies around the Bay Area offer rebates to replace grass with more drought-tolerant plants. The East Bay Municipal Utility District, for example, pays 50 cents a square foot to people who replace lawns with native, drought-tolerant landscaping, up to $2,500 a yard. The Santa Clara Valley Water District pays $1 per square foot.
"If you aren't really going to use a lawn there are a lot of options, like native grasses and wildflowers, succulents and other plants," said Ruthie Gordon, co-owner of Mazingira Gardening Services, a Berkeley landscaping company that specializes in replacing grass lawns, installing drip irrigation and other water-saving strategies.
"Some people think they must have a lawn. It's a cultural thing," she said. "But you really only need a lawn if you have kids or animals playing on it, or if you throw a lot of parties. If it's just for aesthetics, there are a lot of options that look great."
The average home in California uses 192 gallons of water a day, according to a 2008 study by the state Department of Water Resources and the Urban Water Conservation Council.
Among other tips that experts recommend: Taking a 5-minute shower instead of a 10-minute shower saves 12.5 gallons with a low-flow shower head, and 25 gallons with a standard 5 gallon-per-minute shower head. Turning the faucet off while brushing teeth or shaving saves about 10 gallons a day. Using a broom to clean driveways, sidewalks and patios instead of a hose saves 8-18 gallons a minute. Fixing the worn washers in a faucet with a slow steady drip saves 350 gallons per month, and 2,000 gallons a month if the leak is a small stream. Putting a new flapper in a leaking toilet can save 7,000 gallons a month. To test for leaks, put food coloring in the tank. Don't flush. Ten minutes later if you see color in the bowl, you have a leak. Installing a water-efficient clothes washer saves up to 16 gallons a load. A water-efficient dishwasher saves up to 8 gallons a load. Rebates are available for water-saving appliances at most Bay Area water agencies. Soak pots and pans instead of letting the water run while scraping them clean. Most Bay Area water agencies offer free water use inspections. An expert will come to your house check for leaks and offer tips on how to save water and lower your water bill. Replacing a pre-1990 toilet, which can use 5 gallons per flush, with a newer high-efficiency model can save 38 gallons a day per toilet. Most Bay Area water districts offer rebates of between $50 and $250 per toilet.
"People need a lot of help,'' said Whitney Gravel, a Burlingame resident who has been looking for water-saving tips following the governor's drought declaration.
"We take our access to clean water for granted," she said. "We need to reorient our thinking to conserve. We need to do it always, but now it's even more critical."
Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulrogerssjmn.