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California is Running Out of Water: 10 fun tips to help do your part

Updated on April 9, 2015

Are we actually running out of water?

Yes, California has had 3 consecutive years of extreme drought and is currently experiencing the consequences of a now 15 year drought that has plagued the entire western region of the United States. We have all lived through apparently similar disasters such as the US' current budgetary crisis, the problem is we cannot print more water.

Once we run out of water, there's nothing we can do to get it back. Shipping water from the East would be impossibly insignificant in terms of our total demand for water, and we lack sufficient pipelines to transfer this scarce natural commodity. In short, once its gone, its gone.


Ok, but when is this going to happen?

According to Jay Famiglietti, a leading resource scientist at NASA's JPL, we are in quite dire straights. At our current rate of consumption, the best estimate is that we have one year of water left in our reservoirs. We have been in a struggle to manage this dwindling resource for the past 100 years, and are now living in an age where we might quite literally see this effort run dry. For those of you keeping score at home, that is 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 short days until we reap the consequences of our mindless consumption.

Oh damn... this is super bad isn't it?

This is indeed super duper bad. Beyond our obvious basic need of water for survival, one cannot begin to fathom how precious this resource actually is to every aspect of our survival as a society. If we run out of water, essentially every other fundamental process goes out the window with it. With no water, we cannot grow crops, we cannot feed livestock, we cannot sustain the infrastructure needed to power our homes and lives.

There is no replacement for water, as it is a primary component of any potential substitute. You might say, that's fine, I'll just switch to drinking beer. As tantalizing a theory as that is, without water we would have no solute in which to ferment beer, and no way of growing the barley, malt, hops or yeast that this process also requires. Every other idea for a potential substitute for water can follow an analogous dismantling. If we don't have water, we are screwed. Plus, no beer.

Drought Monitor as of March 2015


Alright, I'm on board, what can I do?

There are two parts to this equation, the rate at which water enters our reservoirs, and the rate at which we are depleting said reservoirs. Since any and all attempt to summon rain gods has failed, our only hope is to limit our immense consumption. The entities which are ultimately responsible for this consumption are us, the consumers of the commodity.

Although the actions of single individuals are often discounted as a proverbial drop in the bucket, if everyone gets on board, we can actually make a dent in the consumption of household end users. For the moment, let's forgo discussion of governments as a possible contributor to this effort, as I will discuss this noteworthy point later. In this discussion, I will address key suggestions for the everyday consumer that reflect the relative importance on the following chart.

US indoor household uses of water


#1: Answer nature's call, in nature

As the helpful pie chart from the EPA shows above, about 27% of water used inside US households goes right down the toilet drain. Now, the advent of the modern toilet has done much to better our living conditions as a species, I'm not here to argue that fact. What I think we can do is to limit the amount of water that is being flushed down these drains.

For anyone with the requisite equipment, I will suggest my personal favorite system of decreasing toilet flushes, simply piss outside. You probably have a thirsty shrub in the backyard that wouldn't mind a few liters of sterile moisture, and I'm sure you'll find the experience both exhilarating and altruistically rewarding. In my opinion, the ratio of number ones to number twos, and the consequential portion of water saved is enough to justify this practice.

A typical toilet flush can use about 3 gallons of otherwise suitable drinking water. Just think about how long it would take you to drink that much water next time you are literally pissing it away. I personally don't think my desire to excrete urine indoors justifies such an egregious overuse of a valuable commodity. If you have to use the toilet, or want to be even more responsible, consider installing a graywater system that supplies your non-potable water needs.


#2: Live authentically vogue

I will never understand why people will pay hundreds of dollars to purchase an item of clothing that looks old and dirty (aka vintage), and then compulsively wash and/or replace them. A more economically and sustainably viable option would be to do this dirty work yourself. Maybe that pair of jeans doesn't need to be thrown into the hamper after every use. Maybe you don't need three wardrobe changes throughout the day, and perhaps these items aren't as putrid as you think, after just a few hours of use.

What I want you to do is consciously think about how much water is being used to make your clothes clean, and weigh that against how disgustingly vile your ensemble actually is. My guess is, if you didn't just hit the gym, your shirt can be nicely folded and instantly ready for another use without the unnecessary depletion of one of our most scarce and valuable resources. If your clothes smell like they need to be washed, absolutely wash them, but take a moment to think about the implications of your everyday use of water.

#3: Embrace the grunge

I do not condone transforming the bulk of Californians into an unflattering pile of meandering stink, but I do think that we could address some issues in the second most wasteful household utility, the shower. I get it, you want to smell good, and I appreciate you for this. What I do not appreciate is running the shower for upwards of 15 minutes, turning a grooming experience into a spa day. Next time you get in the shower, set a 5 minute timer on your phone. Better yet, plug the drain so you can visually see how much precious water you are using to clean your body.

Now that we have covered shower duration, let's touch on frequency. Yes, you should shower after the gym or otherwise sweating profusely. If you think you smell bad, or especially if anyone else thinks you smell bad, definitely hop in a for a timely rinse. The shower should be a practice in necessity, not pleasure or routine. You do not need to take multiple showers a day. If you do, you are either very active or something is desperately wrong with you. For each of these reasons, we will allow you a pass.

If you live near the ocean, like I do, no one will hold it against you if you count a surf session as fulfilling your daily shower quota. If you have access to a pool, swimming a couple laps is a great way to hybridize fitness and personal cleanliness. If you have a chinchilla, pick up some spare dust bath during your next visit to Petco. If nothing else, this will allow you an intimate view into the fascinating life of your furry companion. Get creative and always be conscious of the consequences of your actions.

#4: Mind the tap

This one is super simple, but I see people violating basic logic at this appliance almost on a daily basis. Things need to get clean, and for now the best thing we have come up with is to squirt precious water on everything. One day, I hope we will evolve past this admittedly archaic system, but in the meantime let's try to be responsible about it.

My approach to this problem is a one step plan. Step one, don't leave the faucet running unless there is something under it. If you have to, employ the same system as with your shower, plug up the drain and watch as you empty our vital reservoirs into your sink. The volume of water that exists after you brush your teeth or wash a spoon is the exact amount that you have personally depleted from our communal reserves. Feel responsible for this.

#5: Plug your leaks

An astounding portion of our water is not even used, it is being wasted for no productive reason. Leaks are responsible for around 14% of our water usage at home, which is a number I am disgusted by. The cool thing is, you don't even have to actively chase down leaks, as it is relatively easy to determine whether they exist in your domain.

Follow this guide and feel good about yourself. First, turn off everything that squirts water out of it. Second, travel to your water gauge, which is located conveniently outside your house. Finally, if you see the number is inexplicably climbing, call a plumber. You will save money in the long run, so this expense is no excuse for negligence.

#6: Down at/with the car wash

I literally haven't washed my car since high school, when it was one of my adolescent responsibilities, and I am now a grown ass man. The surprising thing is, in terms of cleanliness, my car looks the same as everyone else's. Once in a while, I will use the window scrubbers at the gas station to ensure proper visibility. That's all you really need.

Sometimes, it actually does rain, and I call this an economically/guilt free car wash. Hilariously enough, this all-too-frequently and situationally ironically happens right after my girlfriend takes her car to the wash. I then employ a self-righteous imaginary high five with mother earth. You should try this, it feels good.


#7: Responsible shrubbery

There is no conceivable way that the satisfaction garnered from a blue-ribbon yielding front lawn justifies the immense cost of maintaining such an endeavor. It is one thing to water a plant that is capable of producing fruit or vegetables which can in turn provide you with sustenance. It is quite another to surrender a similar host of resources to a venture that will ultimately contribute to nothing but an incessant desire to keep up with the Joneses.

If you really do require an elegant selection of worthless flora to adorn your home, at least plant species that are indigenous to your area or something that is drought resistant. Your neighbors will admire you for your new found commitment to rationality. If they don't, they're not really your friends. Once your new, responsible assortment of lawn candy is in full bloom, do not water it like you would a dehydrated camel. This defeats the purpose.

#8: Tactical watering

Now that you have a reasonable selection of plants, they will need to be watered from time to time. Luckily, there are steps you can take to ensure this practice is done so responsibly. You should water your plants in the morning or evening, when the UV index and the wind is low. This minimizes evaporation and makes your watering efforts more efficient.

If you have an automated sprinkler system, make sure it is not over-watering your new adaptive shrubbery. These plants require much less water than their wasteful cousins. Finally, make sure the nozzles are pointed in the right direction. Any water that lands on the street or driveway will evaporate and thereby be a complete waste of your and my resources.


#9: Modernize your appliances

Another way to save money, and water, in the long run is to update the appliances in your home. Dual flush or low flow toilets will make your efforts of excretion that much more pleasurable. Efficient shower heads and faucets will make the drain plugging game that much easier to win. Smart watering systems ensure your luxuriously luscious lawn doesn't come with a costly consequence.

Everything that uses water in your home has a more contemporary and efficient upgrade. It is your responsibility to consciously analyze their potential benefit in both environmental and economic realms. If you have questions, stop by your local hardware store and ask away. I'm sure they will jump at the opportunity to sell you something. That being said, maybe do some online research first.

#10: Hold the carne

This one really sucks, but if you really want to take your conservation efforts to the next level, consider limiting the amount of meat you ingest. The fact of the matter is, every pound of beef that makes it to our table has used about 1,800 gallons of water to make it there. When we put this in perspective of pinching shower time and 3 gallon toilet flushes, it really hits home. That's a lot of ones and twos.

Comparatively, other staple food sources require much less water to produce. For example, a pound of corn only takes 108 gallons. That's still a lot of water, but you're effectively saving nearly 1,700 gallons of water, which is about how much fits in this big old truck shown below. Yes, these numbers are unbelievably high, I know that and have consequently included a link to an illuminating report below the big old truck.

Look at all the good you've done

I will be the first to admit that your personal actions don't really matter, but your newly accessed, hopefully not overly pretentious, jua de vive will slowly force society's consciousness into a more sustainable realm. That's something to be proud of. After all, when changing the world, what better place to start than you?


On second thought... we're probably still screwed

The real problem lies, as it all-too-frequently does, with the people we have trusted to run our society. If everyone in the nation followed these guidelines, the biggest impact would be on our levels of self-satisfaction, though this could trigger massive public discontent with the government's comparative irresponsibility. Household use in the public sector accounts for only about 4% of our total water use. The vast majority of the remainder is due to agriculture, which is highly manipulated by the government via subsidies and tax-incentives.

We are growing close to 30% of our agriculture in California deserts, and using up 80% of our water in the process. The reasons we are doing so will unfortunately likely perpetually escape me.

It's not only a matter of where we are growing, but what we are growing. Through heavy subsidization and consumer misinformation, we are inefficiently manipulating the free market into producing foods that are unnecessarily damaging to our livelihood.

Still... this will save you monies

If my degree in Economics has anything to say about it, water is about to get super expensive. It experiences relatively inelastic demand, which means we need to use it regardless of the price, and it is increasingly scarce. These factors contribute to an undeniable future problem for you. Good news is, you are now well equipped to deal with this inevitable price spike. If you follow the guidelines I have outlined above, you will be on your way to successfully navigating this disaster. If you start to acclimate to these tips now, it will undoubtedly save you money in the future. All that's left is to hope everyone else gets on board as well, or else we're in for quite a rough one.


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    • Luke M Simmons profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke M. Simmons 

      3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      Thanks everyone for commenting... Deb, these are exceptional additions. Mr. Happy, suuuuper good point about the pools, but if you do have a pool, make sure it has a cover to limit evaporation and don't worsen your footprint by taking additional lengthy showers.

    • Akriti Mattu profile image

      Akriti Mattu 

      3 years ago from Shimla, India

      Very informative post.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Thanks, Luke. I so appreciate your thoughts and suggestions. As someone surrounded by water (Northern Michigan) and living with well water, I'm sympathetic to California's (and other areas) drought and I'm alarmed about what that means to me. I know your list is just a start and I'm sure you could extend it. So forgive me for adding my two water concerns. #11: Quit drinking bottled water. The production process uses more water than you get in the bottle. #12: Stop supporting fracking. That precious natural gas we're so eager to frack for will not even make the "necessary" list as our urgency for good water increases.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      " If we don't have water, we are screwed. Plus, no beer." - Ya, no good here. Especially the beer part I suppose. Not for me - I gave-up on the Fire Water a while back but I can see the problem nonetheless lol : )

      Whatever You think about peeing in the bushes, just don't do it in Mexico. I had a close friend who did that and cops popped-out of nowhere and told him he had to pay $500, or he'd have to spend some time in a Mexican jail LOL

      "If you have access to a pool, swimming a couple laps is a great way to hybridize fitness and personal cleanliness" - Actually pools are a waste of Water, are they not? Water full of chlorine, sitting in a giant puddle being evaporated by heat? I don't really know much on this point but logic tells me that that would happen. Why have a swimming pool, especially if You live near the Ocean? Isn't that the best pool anyway?

      "I literally haven't washed my car since high school, when it was one of my adolescent responsibilities, and I am now a grown ass man. " - Lucky You!! Man ... I might consider moving to California. No rust to deal with I imagine either!

      "If my degree in Economics has anything to say about it, water is about to get super expensive" - Here I do wish You are referring to the Water brought to your home and not natural bodies of water.

      Fun read. Thank You for bringing the Water issue to the discussion table. I appreciate it.


    • Luke M Simmons profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke M. Simmons 

      3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      @SP: thank you for always being so encouraging. I know first hand how the change has hit the SB area... I didn't even make it up there enough to make my season pass to Bear worth it. Bummer. I still love it up there though. I can't imagine how cool Oregon is. I have a friend who is from up there and she can't stop singing its praises. Good luck, wherever you end up. I'll still be listening in. Cheers.

    • Sharp Points profile image

      Sharp Points 

      3 years ago from Big Bear Lake, California

      Great piece as always Mr. Simmons.

      The drought has effected the S.B. mountains intensely, as I'm sure you know if you frequent them. This of course means the resorts get less traffic and close sooner. Then a domino effect hits the entire community as the local shops, gas stations, restaurants etc. thrive during the winter.

      Over the past four years, I have said (and heard others say) that this is the worst year they have seen yet. In 2008 there was a storm that lasted three days. I opened my door to a wall of snow; had to shovel it into my sink and bathtub to get outside.

      Seven years later, the ground was mostly bare - spotty at best, for most of the season on the mountain. Luckily for the resorts it was cold enough to blow snow to stay open. It is very sad, not to mention this increases the chance for forest fires during the rest of the year.

      As for your advice, I love it.

      I have heard horror stories of people being on the sex offender list for life for urinating outdoors, not sure how true that is.

      I read somewhere to put a brick in your tank to save water when flushing.

      My favorite part of the article..

      We're probably still screwed.

      I have lived in California nearly my entire life but unfortunately it's just not the same. I am hoping to move north to Oregon or Washington eventually. Or even Northern California... who knows?

      As for your piece, it's great man. Two thumbs up.

      -Sharp Points

    • Luke M Simmons profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke M. Simmons 

      3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      @peachpurple: Agreed. Thanks for taking the time to read/comment!

    • peachpurple profile image


      3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      not only in USA, all over the world should be not wasting water, very precious to everyone

    • Luke M Simmons profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke M. Simmons 

      3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      @LG: my grandparents used to have well water, and it is delicious. It must have been a scary feeling running out of water like that. I don't know what we're going to do when that time comes. Hopefully people like you will have some bright ideas. Thanks for the comment.

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 

      3 years ago from West By God

      This is a great hub with lots of ideas for conserving water. Someone once told me that there is water under the shelf there in California and the government is stopping people from using or accessing it. I don't know, I do not live in California. I do however conserve as much water as possible. We also have a dryspell from Mid July to mid September. We do not wash our car. We have 33 gallong trashcans under our downspouts to catch water. We use that to water all our plants and the animals too. When I want hot water to cook or clean or anything I will run the water that is cold into jugs and that is also used as drinking water. We used to be on well water when we first moved up on this mountain and they changed it all over to city water...YUCK! I also lived in another place that we had to dig down to get water from a deep well. We did run out of water a few times and all that conserving has never left me.

    • Luke M Simmons profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke M. Simmons 

      3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      @lgp: I never realized Florida had a similar issue, though it totally makes sense. People do indeed need to take it seriously, this is not one of those "out of sight, out of mind" problems. I mean, it shouldn't be at least. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Cheers!

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Luke, you wrote a very good and informative hub. Water is a problem and all the people need to take it serious. We have drought conditions in the south part of Florida. I only water what produces my fruit. I never realized California was so bad. Stella

    • Luke M Simmons profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke M. Simmons 

      3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      @Besarien: thank you very much for the encouragement. I would actually love to read an article on worldwide water resource issues. There's probably a little bit of overlap, but I think these articles can coexist well, supporting the overall point but highlighting different regions or scopes. I hope you can push through the abundant sources of pessimism, because this topic really needs greater exposure. I wish you the best of luck. I look forward to reading it.

    • Besarien profile image


      3 years ago

      I have been working on a hub more general to world-wide water problems since February that I haven't even come close to finishing. So much of the information depresses me to the point I need to turn away. BTW I really appreciate the bits of humor you injected here. Not an easy thing to do well with serious topics.

      Anyway, I almost didn't read this for both those reasons but then figured there was no point to duplicating info you may have already covered here. Glad I did. Congratulations for tackling an important subject and turning out a great hub. Kudos!

    • Luke M Simmons profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke M. Simmons 

      3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      @yes: love this poem and your ideas. It's pretty hard for us to replicate the expansive natural reservoirs of our landscape or divert water on anything resembling a large enough scale to make a difference in terms of total demand. That being said... I mean, we might want to start trying. If anyone who makes actual decisions is paying attention, please note that we are in favor of exploring this possibility. As for moving reservoirs underground, this has a very interesting premise since we lose an inconceivably large amount of potable water due to evaporation (the specific number eludes me). This would probably be super hard to do, but a decent approximate would be to cover the reservoirs with a condensate trap, which consists of a simple tarp and weight in the middle. Most of the evaporated water would condense on the plastic ceiling and drip back down into the greater body of water. I actually think that this could work, so take notes legislators. (jk/gfl)

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 

      3 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      I grew up in California, and lived through the droughts of the 1970s and late 1980s / early 1990s. During the 1970s drought, my brother told me he read another rhyme in a bathroom stall that said,

      "In this land of drought and sun, we seldom flush for number one."

      I wound up turning it into an entire poem:

      "So when you're through, please close the lid;

      we'll all be very glad you did!

      And while discussing this taboo,

      please always flush for number two.

      This note for everyone is meant,

      to stop that most horrendous scent."


      I also remember the heavy wet years of 1969-1970 and 1982-1983. It seems to me California needs to dig more reservoirs to accommodate those years, which tends to produce flooding. That way, they'll have enough for the drought years, which actually have a degree of predictability to them. Droughts come approximately every 14 years. So do the heavy wet winters, which are offset by 7 years, coming in the middle of the drought cycles.

      Another thing; how much water do those reservoirs lose through evaporation? Perhaps they can put some of them underground, to prevent this???

      (Just my thoughts. Obviously, if I had all the answers, I'd be governor!)

    • Luke M Simmons profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke M. Simmons 

      3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      @buildreps: yeah, if I believed in karma I would say our current situation is likely a direct consequence of our horrendous treatment of the natives... personally I wouldn't trade pristine landscapes for high rise casinos any day of the week. To answer your second question, yes. We already have the technology to create freshwater from saltwater, it is called desalinization. Unfortunately, it is prohibitively expensive and only helps coastal areas. We do not have the infrastructure needed to distribute water from sea level up to inland regions. So yes, in the future desalinization will be one of the ways coastal areas get water, but it is by no means a viable solution to our one-year deadline.

      @pagesvoice: Very good points. I didn't want to get too apocalyptic in this already too lengthy article, but this will most likely become reality. The fact is, a third of our country's agriculture is produced in California desert. If one of the components of this production (water) becomes much more expensive, then the final product will become more expensive. Market forces will drive up the demand and price throughout the rest of the country for sure. Otherwise there would be pricing arbitrage. We are definitely in this together.

      I remember this saying from sixth grade camp, yet still opted to mark my territory in a more desirable domain. It is a good system though, to be sure.

    • pagesvoice profile image

      Dennis L. Page 

      3 years ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

      I have several friends in my writing circle who reside in the west and they've been telling me about this crisis for over a year now. What many people don't realize is California's drought will ultimately be felt by the rest of the country in the form of higher priced vegetables, fruits, grains and beef.

      We had a summer cottage that used a septic system and consequently, hanging proudly over the toilet was a sign that read, "When it is yellow, let it mellow. When it is brown, flush it down."

    • Buildreps profile image


      3 years ago from Europe

      Very interesting, well crafted Hub, Luke. That looks pretty desperate. I would opt for #11 The Rain Dance of the Big Chief. Unfortunately the US killed their natives. Is there a possibility to make water from seawater?


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