Solving the drought

California is suffering through a major drought, and last year was the driest in state history. We know it’s another example of the kind of extreme weather we’ll see more of unless we solve global warming. As a result, we all need to conserve water today, and advocate to protect our water in the future.

Dry riverbed in California
NOAA | Public Domain

California’s historic drought

California is in the grips of one of the worst droughts in our history, and everyone from farmers, to businesses, and ordinary Californians, are feeling its impact.

  • The driest year on record. Last year was the driest in California history, according to measurements dating back to the 1840s. Some scientists estimate that 2013 may have been the driest in over 400 years.
  • Cities are suffering. The State Water Project, the lynchpin of California’s water system, has had to cut off service completely for the first time in its history. At least 17 rural communities may run out of water within 120 days, according to the California Department of Public Health. That list is expected to grow over the next few months.
  • Wildlife being impacted. The drought is preventing Coho Salmon from spawning. Some are blocked out of their creeks by sandbars; others are waiting in the ocean for floodwaters that may never arrive. Elsewhere, juvenile steelhead are trapped in drying streams. This is a tragedy for fishermen and California’s natural heritage.
Xeriscape gardening methods can reduce your water usage by up to 40 percent.

Cutting down on personal water use

Most water is used outside of the home—mainly to irrigate landscaping. Nearly 60 percent of a person’s household water footprint can go toward lawn and garden maintenance.

  • Water early in the morning or later in the evening when temperatures are cooler and save 25 gallons each time you water
  • Use a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks
  • Garden with native species
  • Don’t just landscape, xeriscape:

Xeriscape gardening methods can reduce your water usage by up to 40 percent. To xeriscape, practice the following:

  • Use mulch to reduce evaporation
  • Till your soil so it absorbs more water
  • Use turf sparingly and only when necessary
  • Choose native plants that use less water
  • Raise the height of your lawnmower


  • Check faucets and pipes for leaks
  • Dishwashers typically use less water than washing dishes by hand
  • Run the dishwasher only when full to save water and energy
  • Install low-flow showerheads and save 2.5-15 gallons of water during a 10-minute shower
  • Take five-minute showers instead of 10-minute showers and save 12.5-25 gallons of water
  • Nearly 22 percent of indoor home water use comes from doing laundry, save water by using it for full loads only
  • Turn water off when brushing teeth to save approximately 10 gallons a day
  • Turn water off while washing your hair and save up to 150 gallons a month
  • Plug the sink instead of running the water to rinse your razor and save up to 300 gallons a month
  • When washing your hands, turn the water off while you lather
  • Buy water-saving devices like high-efficiency toilets and clothes washers
  • Install aerators on the kitchen faucet to reduce flows to less than 1 gallon per minute

Protecting our water future

We all need to do our part to solve the drought—from saving water by changing our personal habits, to advocating for water efficiency reforms statewide.

We also need to promote the most practical solutions to global warming, so this megadrought doesn’t become the new normal. That’s why Environment California is promoting cleaner cars and clean energy—solutions that clean up our air and save water. And this drought is just another big reason why we need to ban fracking statewide. Fracking is a dirty form of drilling that not only turns landscapes into industrial zones, but it also uses million of gallons of water we just can’t spare.

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