rain in chicago, drought in california

April Showers: Learning From California’s Drought


The continuing updates on Californian drought are scary, even on a rainy Chicago day like today.  What do we learn from the west coast water crisis?

What We Can Learn from California

Drought is scary.  It is big and unpredictable and hard to understand; even the experts disagree about the causes.  California’s most recent dry stretch has been linked to climate change by scientists at Stanford and tagged to unfortunate weather cycles by NOAA.  One thing is certain, California has been using more water than the region can provide for many years – drought or no drought.

California is one of the few states with no regulations about who can dig a well on their own property, how deep it goes or how much water it draws.  Even as the state government has mandated harsh restrictions on public water use, the agricultural sector (which uses 80% of the state’s water) has been exempted.  How much savings can a state squeeze out of the remaining 20%?

In the midwest we need to guard our water table and keep track of where the water is coming from and going to so that we’ll be prepared for any future swings in the weather patterns and water shed here.

What We Can Do to Protect Midwestern Water

Save water at home

Moss has talked extensively about water saving measures in buildings and why they are important.  Making green choices in residential and commercial buildings – both new and re-modeled, can save water and money without any deprivation by cutting out unnecessary waste.  Even without any major projects, switching out existing faucet taps and shower heads for low flow models can make a tremendous impact on personal water use.  Per the EPA website:

“Twisting on a WaterSense labeled aerator … can save a household 11,000 gallons of water over the life of [one] faucet.”

Actively Protect our Regional Water Supply

We need to keep track of our regional water legislation, and make good choices outside our homes by keeping fertilizers, pollutants and waste products out of the water supply.  The Midwest is blessed with an abundant supply of available, cheap, and safe drinking water as compared to many other parts of the world.  Let’s hang on to what we have, while we still have it!

Minimize Hard Surfaces Everywhere

Did you know that when it rains in Chicago we dump raw sewage into the river?  We do, and its not an accident.  Check our or post on Chicago’s Combined Sewer Overflow system.  The Hardscape problem is as simple as this: when a drop of rain (or sprinkler water) hits a roof, road or sidewalk, it likely ends up in a sewer, mixing with human waste and requiring expensive treatment before it can be restored to the watershed.  The less hardscape there is the less that happens.  Jump on the sneckdown spotting bandwagon to help identify areas of paving that don’t need to be there.

How Chicagoans Can Help With California’s Drought

Can we help?  Way over in the middle of the country?  Without magic powers of weather control?


Here’s one very easy way to help yourself and California a the same time.  Support your local farmers or, even better, grow your own produce this summer.   Agriculture accounts for 80% of water used in California.  In case you’ve been living under a rock all your life, or have never paid any attention to your food sources, most of the produce for the entire country is produced in the Golden State.  And we have un-thinkingly been letting California spend A LOT of water growing our produce.  From Mother Jones on Where California’s Water is Going:

It takes 4.9 gallons of water PER WALNUT to grow a walnut tree to maturity.

California does have a great year-round growing season that makes it an easy choice for winter grocery produce.  But in summer the midwest can grow veggies with the best – the big problem is that too few people are buying them.  So give the West Coast (and their water shortage) a break; avoid the grocery produce aisle and head to the farmers market nearest you for your apples and tomatoes this year.

don't drink bottled water

Also, as we discussed in March, a lot of bottled water is sourced from California – even during this drought.  That’s CRAZY.  We need to tap (pun intended) our own water resources rather than snagging more water from a dry area and supporting the despicable practices of a companies like Nestle.

If we’re lucky, the Midwest may never have the water crunches faced by the west coast right now, but its hard to predict the future.  We need to learn from California’s crisis and take better care of the water we have right now!