California has the unfortunate characteristic of being prone to prolonged and severe droughts at any time. The immense size of California enables droughts to occur at different times throughout the state. Vulnerability to dry conditions means that consumers consider water reliability to be of the upmost importance. Customer surveys by water companies have even shown a willingness by consumers to pay higher fees in order to ensure water reliability. As the population of California expands and there is increasing demand on water supplies, reliability may become increasingly difficult to maintain.
When water supplies are not adequate to meet water demands, we are faced with a water shortage. When a water shortage is due to a decrease in precipitation that is called a drought. When defining whether or not a state of drought exists, a region must take a subjective look at the current conditions. Many times drought is seen as a gradual phenomenon and as a function of impacts on water users. Another way to define drought is below average rainfall or lowered reservoirs.
There are many strategies for dealing with water shortages. The most cost-effective and common is water conservation but other viable methods do exist. Desalination, reclaimed water usage, and cloud seeding are other water shortage solutions whose viability is currently being debated.
Desalination is the process of removing the salt that makes certain bodies of water undrinkable so that the water can be used for household purposes. Sea water desalination seems like the perfect answer to water shortages, after all, one could argue that we have more ocean than we know what to do with! However, the process of desalination is extremely expensive and building new desalination plants is very time-consuming. Additionally, the process of desalination uses tremendous amounts of energy. For more information on Desalination, review Department of Water Resource's California Desalination Planning Handbook.
DWRs California Desalination Planning Handbook is a guide for participants in water supply planning considering desalination options for water supply. The question of whether to locally implement a desalination project can be a very complicated one. If a community determines it is appropriate for their needs, this Handbook is a guidance document to use for developing, where appropriate, economically and environmentally acceptable seawater and brackish groundwater desalination facilities in California. The planning process outlined in the Handbook is intended to identify and address the siting, regulatory, technical, environmental and other issues which should be considered in determining whether and how to proceed with a desalination project.
Recycled water is another viable option in times of water shortages. Recycled water is wastewater that has been treated and had contaminants removed. Though the health aspects of recycled water are controversial, most experts agree that it is safe for everything but drinking. There is a big push to use recycled water for all outdoor landscaping and many golf courses and recreation areas are jumping on the recycled bandwagon. The downside of recycled water for residential use is found in the cost of installation of extra pipes. For residential purposes, a home would have two sets of water pipes; one set each for pure and recycled water. For further information on recycled water, please visit DWR's Recycling page.
One problem with using recycled water for irrigation purposes is that many times treated wastewater is used to refill lakes, streams, and other bodies of water. Recycling the water means that less will be able to flow to those water bodies, which can have an adverse effect on the wildlife thriving in that area.
Cloud seeding has also been introduced as a solution to water shortages. In cloud seeding, tiny crystals of silver iodide are sprinkled over clouds to promote moisture circulating in the clouds. Controversies surrounding cloud seeding revolve around the excessive costs and the lack of conclusive evidence that it is truly effective. In the heat of the summer when the dry conditions are felt the hardest, the issue of cloud seeding may be a moot point since you have to have clouds to seed! You can't make rain out of a blue sky!