By Dan Kirk
Have you hydroplaned yet? Canceled a trip because it’s too scary to hydroplane? Felt proud about keeping water out of your house after you learned new home flooding prevention techniques after the first atmospheric dumped on your house? Or felt the opposite – enraged at the fact that you live in a cemented over floodplain and can’t catch a break? Have you been trying to grapple with the fact that the reality of the drought in California truly sucks your soul dry and you feel a little weird to be “over the rain”?
Well, if you are shaking your fist at the sky, maybe unclench your hands for a moment because according to some experts, the “short term” drought is over in most of the state. Snowpack is up 212% and will continue to go up in the coming days, and over half of California’s major reservoirs are above the historic average for this time of year. All reservoirs in California are above 50% capacity (the majority over 75% capacity) except the Trinity Reservoir further north. Two weeks ago, the charts looked significantly different. The key detail is the “short term” part, which speaks to the amount of available surface water in California. In the long run, we should consider ourselves in a drought crisis because of the significant deficits in groundwater. To replenish the groundwater would take years of heavy rainfall – the chronic overdraft of groundwater in the Central Valley plays a huge role in this. So, it’s complicated.
Last month, Governor Newsom signed an executive order that makes it easier to capture floodwater to recharge groundwater – temporarily lifting regulations and setting clear conditions for diverting flood stage water without permits to boost groundwater recharge storage. Executive order N-3-23 enables water agencies and water users to divert flood stage water for wildlife refuges, underground storage and recharge. The order includes wildlife and habitat protections, ensuring that any diversions would not harm water quality or habitat or other environmental needs.
One of the big takeaways from droughts and the storms and floods is that water management needs to change, and one huge tool that has and will continue to make a difference is rainwater capture/storage and reuse in areas that would otherwise flood significantly during heavy rainfall. This can happen at the macro level and at the smaller community and/or individual level. It’s interesting because only just over 10 years ago the Rainwater Capture Act passed in 2012, which authorizes residential, commercial and governmental landowners to install rain capturing systems without permits from the state board (though some licensing is required in certain cases). The restrictions stem from the historic era of the Gold Rush, where the use of hydraulic processes in dry areas led to regulations on diverted water.
The Watershed Project is making an effort to educate students, teachers and the community at large about the importance and impact of rainwater capture and reuse through our Youth Watershed Stewards program, which you can read more about here.