Daily water consumption within the United States is a little more than 37 billion gallons. That means each person in the United States uses about 150 gallons of water each day for cooking, bathing, flushing toilets, laundry, shaving, brushing teeth, washing dishes and landscaping. For some areas of the country, such as in the Northeast, individual water needs are easily met because freshwater is plentiful. However, in other parts of the United States, such as the western states, which include large areas of desert, supplies of freshwater are limited.
California offers a unique example of having areas of both plentiful and limited water supplies. Northern California receives, on average, about two-thirds of the state's total rainfall or precipitation. Southern California typically receives a limited amount of precipitation, and groundwater supplies are usually scarce, too. However, more than two-thirds of the state's population lives in Southern California's semiarid environment. Thus, additional freshwater has to be imported to this semiarid part of the state.
Within California, water is transported into Southern California through aqueducts that stretch out for hundreds of miles. An aqueduct is a structure made of pipes and concrete that carries water from remote areas to large urban centers. It's really a freeway system that transports water, instead of cars and trucks.
There are three main aqueducts that bring water to water into Southern California. The largest is the 440-mile California Aqueduct, which begins in the San Francisco/San Joaquin Delta area. The second is the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which begins in the Owens Valley just south of Mono Lake in the eastern Sierra Nevada and travels 335 miles until reaching the City of Los Angeles. Finally, the 242-mile Colorado River Aqueduct brings water over the mountains and through the desert to Southern California.
In addition to California, the states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona as well as Mexico all rely upon an allotment of water from the Colorado River to turn some of the hottest and driest portions of the United States and Mexico into productive agricultural and urban centers. However, as the population and the pace of economic development increases in California, Arizona and Nevada, so does the demand for water. This increase will most likely cause every one of these states to use their current allotment of water from the Colorado River and search for other water sources, such as obtaining a portion of the water allotted to Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.
Today, despite a green appearance, the reality is that nature made most of Southern California a desert. Only by managing scarce water resources wisely, increasing the use of recycled water for non-drinking water purposes and making water conservation habits a way of life will Southern California continue to enjoy one of the world's most comfortable lifestyles.
Managing scarce water resources wisely and increasing the use of recycled water for non-drinking water purposes requires various government agencies and businesses to work together toward a common goal. Everyone can do their part to conserve water by doing a few simple things:
- Turn off the water while brushing your teeth.
- Take shorter showers.
- Use a wastebasket and not the toilet for trash.
- Use a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks.
- Only run full loads in the washing machine and dishwasher.
- Fix leaky faucets and plumbing joints.
- Install water-saving showerheads and toilets.
Water conservation is part of West Basin Municipal Water District's overall strategy to reduce the amount of imported water to the South Bay. This strategy, the Integrated Resources Plan, combines the distribution of water-saving showerheads and toilets, water recycling, water education, cooperative groundwater management and desalination efforts to increase water reliability with the region.
Nationally, government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as well as professional associations such as the American Water Works Association and the Water Environment Federation are active in a variety of water conservation issues. Within California, government agencies such as the Department of Water Resources as well as professional associations such as the Association of California Water Agencies are also heavily involved in water conservation issues. Locally in Southern California, environmental groups such as the Mono Lake Committee and government agencies such as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and West Basin are all actively involved in promoting water conservation in communities throughout the South Bay.