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Earth Day Should Remind Us to Conserve Water



The current drought reminds us how fragile our supply is.


NCARBThe recent 51st Earth Day should be a big reminder of how essential and precious water is as one of our most essential natural resources. Our awareness of water management grows while historic chronic California droughts requires a new focus on conservation.


Sonoma, in response to the pending drought, elected to inflate what has become an annual event: a rubber dam across the Russian River to collect water and dispense to various county reservoirs. That’s one solution to a crisis.


In January, our North Bay was expected to have normal rainfall. But the low 2020-2021 rainfall total was recorded at 11.32 inches, or 31% of our average 37.01 inches, the second lowest rainfall recorded since 1893.


At the same time, per capita water consumption is increasing. Water and sewer rates have increased dramatically over the last decade (100–400%); and new water supply options are too costly or altogether unavailable. Some good news: our sanitary discharges are down 40% over the decade. Woo, woo!


The Napa Valley Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) is a task force of local water managers using a Federal Grant to assist local agencies for the second drought in two years. Napa County has been extremely lucky that our local reservoirs, while low, are not requiring significant reductions in our personal water usage. But that is inevitably going to change.


Voluntary reductions from previous summer uses are suggested at 15% by reducing yard watering, avoiding over-spraying, hand watering and drip irrigation opposed to water-guzzling sprinklers. These are not mandatory....not yet. Clearly, we need to find simple ways of reducing our water usage as new and existing water resources are becoming increasingly scarce throughout the North Bay.


As a practicing architect in Marin in the 70’s, extreme droughts were experienced for years. The mandatory requirements were harsh but essential. Emergency pipelines across the San Rafael/Richmond Bridge help, and even Native/American rain dancers were employed. Nobody could water their lawns or gardens, showers were severely limited, heavy fines were levied if you exceeded your rationed amount, swimming pools went empty and dishes never looked clean. Neighbors sometimes hitched hoses to their next door neighbors sources, like stealing internet today.


Nowadays we are better prepared. Water-saving has become ubiquitous, but we need to do more. In addition, there is the increasing recognition of both water and energy savings by implementing water saving initiatives. Builders and professionals must do a better job at conserving water, especially during construction. We generally think of water efficiency as low flow fixtures and high efficacy appliances, but the initial construction of a house requires significant site cleaning, dust reduction and water for mortar and concrete. Efficiency should start with the first shovel in the ground.


Our future water conservation strategy must include aggressive system optimization, more efficient water systems design, water reuse /recycling, leak detection, repair and replacement of failing systems. We can all learn and be a part of the solution.


Chris d CraikerAIA/NCARB - Chris Lived on a Sausalito houseboat in 70’s and often windsurfed to work in Mill Valley. It would take 2 hours and a lot of falls.

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