Will the West Coast Run out of Water?

Published by Alexa Bartel on

Will the West Coast Run out of Water?

west coast water issues

The West Coast has always symbolized a sense of dreams and aspirations. Miners who looked to make a fortune in the California gold rush and young actors and actresses aspiring to make it big in Hollywood. Then there’s also all that abundance of sun all year round and scenic landscape which can take anyone breath away. But, life along the West Coast may not be all that grand as it seems to be.

Record-breaking dry spells have sparked turmoil in the West Coast. Pretty much every state you can think of that’s on the western part of the U.S has been facing a water shortage of some kind. The Colorado River basin, a super vital water resource for 7 states, is the victim of a slower-burning catastrophe entering its 16th year. 

The Colorado River provides water supplies to Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California and sustains 40 million people in those states. It also supports 15 percent of the nation’s food supply and fills two of the largest water reserves in the country.

Here at iWater, our readers often ask us: “how can we fix water quality issues in the West Coast?” It’s not an easy question to answer. The West Coast has been dealing with water problems for a long time. And like any prolonged crisis, the drought is bringing out a mix of positive and adverse reactions.

For instance, some individuals are consciously conserving water in their homes, even in little ways. The crisis has also inspired innovation in water conservation for restaurants, pools and lawns. On the other hand, others have been caught stealing water from their neighbors, and drought-shaming campaigns have multiplied online.

How bad is it?

Let’s put this in perspective for you:

In the late 1970s, California faced a major drought. At the time, fewer than 20 million people lived in the state. Today, nearly 40 million live there. In the year 2015, California state officials announced the first cutback to farmers’ water rights since 1977. Cities and towns were ordered to cut water use by as much as 36 percent. Despite this, some farmers ignored the rules, even challenging them in court. Presently, the drought shows no sign of letting up any time soon, and the state’s agricultural industry is suffering greatly.

Diminishing water supplies have wreaked havoc throughout the last decade. National Geographic has reported widely on the drought in California and on emerging water scarcity across the western United States. Studies indicate that a warmer climate, coupled with the lack of snow in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada mountains, have dramatically reduced snowmelt – a crucial provider of water to California and the agricultural belt in its Central Valley.

The water crisis on the West Coast is likely only going to get worse, and there is a lot of information to absorb. So, to help you fully grasp the seriousness of this issue, here are 9 of the most critical things you need to know about the West Coast water crisis, and what you can do about them.

1. The West Coast relies heavily on snowpack each winter

Sierra Nevada mountains snowpack

For dry places like the West Coast, mountains are a crucial source of water. These areas rely heavily on snowpack each winter to resupply water streams or lakes. Due to a lack of winter storms and record high temperatures, snowpack in California is at an all-time low. When the snowpack is scarce, the state’s hydropower supply is also at risk.

There are many things we can do to reduce the warming trajectory. Starting with reducing emissions of carbon dioxide. But steering this ship around is going to take time, even under the best scenarios.

2. An aquifer under the Central Valley is rapidly depleting

The gap between water supply and demand – predicted to reach 40% by 2030 – will not be filled by surface water resources, so aquifers are being exploited more and more for agriculture, power generation and daily use in fast-growing cities.

A large aquifer under the Central Valley is rapidly depleted to make up for shortfalls in the surface water supply. According to a 2011 study, the amount of water that the Central Valley Aquifer is losing each year is equivalent to the 29 million acre-feet of water found in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest surface reservoir on the Colorado River. 

3. California is not the only western state in trouble

Colorado River Basin

When we hear of extreme drought, California often comes to mind. However, Oregon and parts of Washington are having winter snowpacks far below the norm. The Colorado River Basin has been in a drought for more than a decade, and the river basin’s aquifers have been declining too. Water quality issues in the US spread into urban areas also. That’s because the land surfaces are covered by buildings and pavement, which do not allow rain and snowmelt to soak into the ground.

Droughts worsen many of the West Coast’s water problems and heighten awareness of several other issues. Issues like poor access to safe drinking water, the aquatic ecosystem crisis, and the unsustainable use of groundwater. Drought prevention, which really should be part of our everyday habits, mainly focuses on water conservation.

See more on water conservation later on in this article.

4. Groundwater reserves are running dry

1/3 of Earth’s largest groundwater basins are under threat because humans are draining so much water from them. Additionally, researchers say they lack accurate data about how much water remains in these dwindling reservoirs.

Imagine the groundwater was a bank account. In many areas, farmers are withdrawing money without knowing the balance and with no idea when the account will run dry. Groundwater extraction occurring in 21 of the 37 largest aquifers, globally exceeds the recharge rate.

5. Your well-water may not be well

well water west coast

For states in the western part of the US, well-water quality issues can vary greatly. Hawaii, for example, is a state with mostly soft water, even in private wells. If you reside in this state, you may be glad to know that you won’t have to deal with pesky hard minerals in your water. However, other potential issues and contaminants can impact the quality of your water supply, such as:

  • High nitrates
  • Pockets of arsenic
  • Hydrogen sulphide gas, which causes a rotten egg smell

Nitrate makes their way into well water through sources such as:

  • Agricultural activities 
  • Fertilizers
  • Leaking sewage lines
  • Improperly functioning septic systems
  • Industrial processes
  • Motor vehicles

If you think you have nitrate levels way above the guideline levels, then you’ll want to consider doing the following:

  • Install a drinking water treatment device that removes nitrate
  • Try alternative water sources like a point-of-use treatment device (NSF certified) for food and beverage preparation, hygiene, or washing dishes.
  • Relocate or drill a deeper well that has been tested or verified and deemed to be a safe supply.

Getting your well water tested for water contaminants is something many experts strongly suggest doing at least once every year. In many cases, a reverse osmosis system will significantly improve water taste and improve home drinking water quality, and for rural homeowners with their own well, RO water filter systems are often a necessity.

Many times, an R.O. is installed to improve water taste, but treating water with reverse osmosis or a water dispenser can also reduce the chance of more severe issues, such as lead contamination. To learn more about the benefits of having a filtration system, check out our reviews of the most popular water dispensers here.

6. Hard water exists along the West Coast too

Unlike Hawaii, most of California has hard water, and well water is even harder. For this reason, some people may opt to buy bottled water instead. However, more and more people are adapting to environmentally conscious trends and having to buy bottled water regularly may not be in the cards. In this case, water softeners present some unique benefits.

Additionally, there have been studies that suggest the effects of hard water can worsen certain health conditions.

These include:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Cerebrovascular Mortality
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Diabetes

Aside from health risks, buildup of hard water on tubs, shower, sinks, and faucets can happen over time. Even worse, the minerals in hard water also start to build up inside pipes, fixtures, and appliances. This build-up can cause all sorts of plumbing problems, such as clogs, decreased water flow, and increased pressure on pipes and fixtures.

Scale from mineral deposits can also cause appliances to wear down faster and work less efficiently. For instance, a water heater has to heat all of the mineral scale buildup inside the tank, plus the water.

If you’re looking for an alternative to hard water, distilled water can be a great option. It’s not the best tasting water. However, distilled water doesn’t provide you with minerals like calcium and magnesium that you get from tap water. Check out our reviews of the best water distillers here.

7. Corrosive water off the West Coast

If you live on the West Coast, then chances are your water supply is corrosive due to alkalinity.

But how does it become corrosive? 

Let us explain:

Humans release a lot of carbon dioxide, and this is done by burning fossil fuels. The CO2 then goes up into the atmosphere and traps heat. About 1/4 of all anthropogenic CO2, gets absorbed by the ocean instead.

This sets off a chain of chemical reactions. The result is, the pH of the oceans is changing, and the supply of calcium carbonate minerals is decreasing.

Since the Industrial Age began, humans have dumped about 550 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the oceans. The reason ocean acidification is so harmful on the West Coast is due to coastal upwelling. In the summer the wind shifts and it pulls the water at the surface of the ocean away from shore. Then, water from deeper in the ocean (which is full of stuff that has decayed) rises to replace it, resulting in more CO2.

"When you have the combined impact of CO2-rich water from the bottom and an additional anthropogenic CO2 from humankind, that combined impact is what has put us over the threshold for these corrosive waters to exist"

Corrosive waters affect the West Coast marine life. For instance, corrosive waters dissolve the shells of tiny marine snails called pteropods, a favorite food of some salmon species.

8. Water scarcity is real

water scarcity

You may find yourself being skeptical about water scarcity. After all, 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water. But did you know that only 3% is fit for human consumption? Don’t believe us? Just factor in the fact that 2/3 of the freshwater in the world is locked up in frozen glaciers. Here are some other things that contribute to the problem of water scarcity:

Pollution

Industrial wastes are deposited into water bodies, making the water unfit for human consumption. Oil spillage and fecal matter also contaminate the water.

Overuse of Water/Wasted Water

Some of us are using too much water, especially for irrigation purposes. It, therefore, becomes inadequate for other equally essential uses. Some people leave their taps running or their shower running before they’ve even hopped into the bath. All this water sadly ends up lost to the ground.

Drought

When drought strikes an area, there is usually no rain for an extended time. This makes rivers to dry. Other water sources such as streams, ponds, etc. also dry up. People, therefore, do not have enough water for domestic and industrial use.

Destruction of Water Catchment Areas

Water catchment areas such as forests are continually being destroyed through deforestation to pave the way for human settlement. This problem has been brought about by a rapid population increase. As a result, there is not enough rain, thus causing a water shortage.

9. Water scarcity can be resolved

We can resolve water scarcity. However, it requires a collective effort with every one of us playing our own part to address the West Coast water crisis. Here are some solutions to water scarcity:

Water infrastructure

This includes all the infrastructure used to build, pump, transport, divert, store, treat, and deliver safe drinking water, as well as the tools and equipment used to create them. Inadequate water infrastructure inevitably comes water scarcity. This is why we must improve the quality of our water infrastructure, be it natural or artificial.

Recharge our groundwater

Another solution is to improve our attempts to recharge our groundwater. Groundwater recharging has been one of the most successful methods of solving water scarcity in many areas. Note, this is not to be mistaken with groundwater extraction.

Stop polluting the water supply

People and corporations are polluting the water supply with chemicals and other forms of waste daily. Additionally, air pollution leads to the contamination of rainwater, which is a significant source of water for many.

Water conservation

Here’s one of the biggest solutions to the current water crisis along the West Coast. At the end of this article, we will provide you with some ways through which we can conserve water.

"Little drops of water, Little grains of sand, Make the mighty ocean And the pleasant land."

Drought mitigation

Here is another technique to curtail the level of water scarcity in the world. Drought mitigation techniques like soil and water conservation and efficient irrigation can greatly reduce the effects of water scarcity.

Research & Technology

water technology

Water home technology has come up with ways that have made it possible for water that is unfit for human consumption, to be made clean and safe. Some of the most frequently used methods include Reverse Osmosis, Electrodialysis Reversal (EDR), Desalinization, Nanofiltration, and Solar and UV Filtration.

  • Desalination works to separate dissolved salts and other minerals in your drinking water. Desalination can also be used to purify water from wells and other forms of running water such as water from rivers and streams.

  • Nanofiltration is used for softening water and removing specific heavy metals from water as well as in the reduction of salt contents to make sure that it’s safe for consumption.

  • Solar and UV Filtration is a purification technique that uses a blend of solar energy and solar (UV) light to make water contaminated by biological organisms such as viruses, bacteria, worms, and protozoa, safe to drink.

If you are really looking to solve a wide range of problems affecting your water quality, taste, or appearance, installing a whole house water filter is a great option too.

Support Clean Water Initiatives

Another fundamental solution is supporting and donating to organizations and initiatives that seek to provide clean water to those in need. Some of these include NGOs like Charity Water, Water.org, Lifewater International, WaterLex, Save The Water, World Water Council, and the World Water Council.

Water Conservation Tips

water conservation tips

Considering that only 3% of the water on our planet is fit for human consumption, and every day we lose more of it, you’ll want to do your part in helping to preserve this essential source of life.

Here are some water-saving best practices to make a part of your daily routine:

General

  • Before pouring water down the drain, think of another use for it. For example, you can use it to water your indoor plants or garden.

  • Did you know that one drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year? So make sure to repair any dripping faucets!

  • Monitor your plumbing for leaks and have any leaks repaired.

  • Try retrofitting your faucets by installing aerators with flow restrictors.

  • Install a hot water heater on your sink (you can check out our tankless water heater reviews & electric tankless water heaters here)

  • Insulate your water pipes to lessen heat loss & to keep them from breaking

  • Install a water-softening system if you have hard water that is damaging your pipes. Be sure to turn the softener off while on your away or vacation.

  • Choose appliances that are more energy and water-efficient.

Bathroom

  • Try purchasing a low-volume toilet that uses less than half the water of older models.

  • Try installing a toilet displacement device to cut down on the amount of water used to flush.

  • Replace your showerheads with ultra-low-flow versions

Kitchen

  • It may come off as a shock, but sink disposals need a lot of water to work correctly. Instead, try starting a compost pile or simply dispose of food in the garbage.

General Outdoor

  • Check your well pump now and then. If you notice that the automatic pump turns on and off while water is not being used, then it could mean that you have a leak.

  • Plant native or drought-tolerant grasses, ground covers, shrubs, and trees.

  • Install irrigation devices that are the most water-efficient for each use.

  • Try mulch for your soil to retain moisture. Tip: Mulch also helps control weeds that fight with landscape plants for water.

  • Try your best not to purchase recreational water toys, especially ones that need a constant stream of water.

  • Don’t install ornamental water features (like a fountain) unless they use re-circulated water.

  • Try out rainwater harvesting where practical. You’ll just need to contact your local water provider for assistance.

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