California: Why We Can't Survive The Drought, And Discovering The Real Problem

Categories: Rainwater Harvesting

I've recently had communication with Colorado State Congressmen and Women, and have spent some time researching the fact that rainwater catchment has been illegal in urban locations, and only legalized recently for residents with 30 acres or more. Even now, a new bill has been presented to allow everyone to have two rain barrels. Opponents of the bill consider that the water currently belongs to someone down river, whether it's in another state, or the farmer at the bottom of the valley, and to allow rainwater collection at the top of the hill would impact those below who already rely on that water. I agree that the argument has merit, but I would like to present a wider angle of the problem, and of some potential solutions, and it is in California where presuming a correct model could mean the difference between the life and death of the State.

When the water falls from the sky, every drop finds a place to land. From the landing place, it begins to move. You have felt the humidity in the air when it rains. In a tropical environment, the warm temperature on the ground allows the rain to fall to the ground, but just as fast, much of it turns to vapor, and it climbs back up, reforming clouds from the moisture, and once again raining down. Those storms draw moisture in, often off the ocean from the evaporation that occurs... more at higher temperatures than at low ones.

In the midwestern United States, warm humid air in the spring works its way northward from the gulf of Mexico. When it contacts the cold dry air from the north, there is a convergence zone, and that moisture is wrung from the air in the form of heavy thunderstorm rain or hail. The displacement of air that occurs from the heavy falling rains or hail can cause tremendous winds. Sometimes those storms march on in a swirling fashion and become tornadic. But all of this happens over vast miles of land.

A smaller version of this trend happens in Southern California, where the humid air from the ocean moves east over the San Bernardino Mountain range, and the warm moist air rises over the mountains into the high elevations where there's cold air aloft. This breeds summer thunderstorms, and the water is purged from the atmosphere. For that reason, beyond the mountains is nothing but desert that runs through Hesperia and Barstow, to Havasu and on toward the Grand Canyon. Most of Arizona is Desert... and Utah as well. It's not until the mountains of the Rockies that you have tremendous green again as you move East.

But there has been a change in the pattern recently in California, whether it's just the gift of nature, or caused by man is something on a grand scale to be determined. But the weather pattern has shifted. The moisture from the pacific never ceases to miss the Portland / Seattle region, which includes the Olympic Peninsula; one of the wettest rainforests on Earth. But when that weather pattern coming off the Pacific remains with that northward bend, and without a dip to the south, California misses out on much needed moisture. Considering that the Gold rush, and then sunny beaches and warm weather created a migratory pattern that sent masses of population west for so long, only to run out of room to continue where else? At the great city of Los Angeles, a catch-all for diversity and the melting pot of the world.

When my Dad was young, he had a chance to visit his grandfather. The first thing he asked my Dad was "how's the beautiful Los Angeles River? And what about the miles and miles of vast orchards?" My Dad could hardly believe that's what his grandfather remembered, and couldn't even begin to explain that the Los Angeles River was just a concrete drainage ditch where teenagers got their thrills racing cars.

What has changed in Calfornia since my great Grandfather was there, topographically speaking? Primarily, it is the land that has changed. It has changed shaped for the purpose of water runoff and drainage. Every home is built to code. Code enforces that it must be elevated above a flood plain, and water must run away from it. So by the purpose of codes, flood plains are removed by an increase of gravel and dirt, and everything is about water flow direction. What does that do in the grand scheme of things?

Well consider also that water not only runs downhill to a final end destination, but now everything is paved! So water moves downhill from sloped roofs to the ground, from sloped ground to paved roads. From paved roads to concrete gutters to paved riverbeds to the ocean. Am I wrong? So what has really happened to our water? As fast as it falls, instead of sitting on the soil, all of the soil slopes it down the slide to the ocean. Instead of building up the aquafir, what, are we hoping the ocean provides water back to the aquafir? Does it? I expect not.

So every decision to build a house is a decision to displace water from the soil, and send it to the reclamation center (or downstream) as fast as possible. Every decision to build a road is a slick path to the drink. So how do we slow it down? If water sitting in non-sloped flat soil works its way slowly to the aquafirs and underground streams, then slowing down the water's path leads to a yearlong disbursement of that hydration. But since the population in California has continued to increase, the farming of the land as well, more and more water is necessary, yet we're faster and faster sending it away... and we don't seem to know it.

Rainwater catchment is a nice way to hold on to some of that water, above or under ground, and by using it to water the land over time, homeowners become the catalyst that helps nature do what it was supposed to do... spread the water into the ground gradually.  Let's do our part and catch some of that water, and slow down the path to the sea!  Let's all be sure it's legal to do so, and we will prevent the "once in a thousand years drought" from destroying the country.  It may be too late for California.  If the one year timeline isn't urgency enough, I don't know what is.   

~By David Webster 4/3/15

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