Op-ed: Steps we can take towards long-term drought solutions

By Anya Kamenskaya, Ingrid Severson and Linda Hunter

Anya Kamenskaya and Ingrid Severson are part of DIG Cooperative, Inc., an ecological design-build cooperative with a focus on sustainable urban water infrastructure. Linda Hunter is the Director of the Watershed Project, a Richmond-based nonprofit whose mission is to inspire Bay Area communities to understand, appreciate and protect our local watersheds.

Drought
“When it comes to drought, California has a tendency to stick its head in the sand until it’s almost too late.” Photo: Bert Kaufmann

Many of us waited for months for Governor Jerry Brown to make official what our reservoirs and landscapes had already been showing: California’s water situation is dire. This isn’t the first time the state has weathered drought conditions, and, according to reports from government agencies and climatologists, these conditions may only worsen.

The water agency that covers Berkeley, the East Bay Municipal Utility District, recently issued guidelines on water use reductions (reservoir levels are only 63% of normal) and is asking their East Bay customers to reduce their water usage by 10% .

Critical stop-gap measures are being imposed around the state, but they tend to reveal that when it comes to drought, California has a tendency to stick its head in the sand until it’s almost too late.

That’s why EBMUD needs to step up its long-term water reuse and conservation measures on all fronts: personal and community, urban and rural, municipal and legislative. And residents should be glad to know that many options and technologies already exist.

Installing low-flow shower heads, fixing leaks and insulating pipes are just the beginning of integrating a water-smart ethic into everyday life. EMBUD is already offering free water conservation toolkits and rebates. They also recently released the results of a “behavioral water efficiency” pilot project.

The next critical step is to make greywater reuse, landscaping for water retention and rainwater harvesting the norm.

Berkeley city government can follow the lead of projects such as Orange County’s wastewater purification system, San Francisco’s Subsidized Greywater Program, and Arcata’s wastewater treatment wetlands. In addition, implementing city-wide low impact design strategies such as replacing impervious services with rain gardens and bioswales will make our watersheds more healthy and resilient.

Berkeley residents already engaged in promoting integrated water-reuse strategies have the support of many local organizations: The Ecology Center’s Eco House and Greywater Action; ecological design businesses such as DIG Cooperative, Planting Justice, Indra Designs, and Bay Friendly Gardeners; and forward-thinking institutions such as the Peralta Colleges and UC Berkeley’s Water Center. All of these organizations are working diligently towards creating watershed healthy alternatives that will serve us well during times of drought.

Many residents are discovering that laundry-to-landscape greywater is a low tech, attainable and affordable form of recycled irrigation.

Hank Obermayer of Berkeley worked with residents in his shared co-housing community to install a laundry-to-landscape system.

“Our laundry to landscape made a big difference,” he said. “Our greywater feeds a whole area of fruit trees and raspberries. With six households, we produce about 50 gallons a week. The water goes directly to the roots of the plants in our garden and since installing the system, the trees are so much healthier and are growing faster. We get lots of fruit. We were so pleased with the results that we just got a second washing machine and are about to install our next greywater system.”

By implementing simple systems that mimic nature, we can all save money and water and help California weather this drought.

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