Learning To Live With The California Drought


Building Water Independence in California

By Ruth Judah.

“As an issue of national security, Israel has successfully made itself water independent,” said California Secretary for Natural Resources, John Laird. Now, California is working to reach the same goal. It was back in 2013 that Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the sharing of water technology and the enhancing of economic interests between California and Israel.

Assemblyman Marc Levine - Chair of Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, Professor Eilon Adar and Eyal Naor - Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest

Assemblyman Marc Levine – Chair of Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, Professor Eilon Adar and Eyal Naor – Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is home to The Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research and its Director Professor Eilon Adar. Professor Adar is an expert in arid zones hydrology and Middle East water issues. He conducts cutting-edge research on groundwater flow systems and arid basins.

As the relationship between Israeli and Californian hydrologists has deepened, Professor Adar has built ties with our hydrologists, water policy makers, farmers and municipal authorities. With frequent visits to the Golden State, he has been willing to share his knowledge of water management, technology and his experience working in arid and semi-arid regions with scarce water resources.

Laird is pleased with the relationship, “With a similar climate, California is poised to benefit greatly from Professor Adar and researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev as we plan for ways to better manage water, particularly in times of severe drought.”

Two weeks ago, Professor Adar was again back in California. After meeting with policy makers in Sacramento, he met with farmers in the Bay area. “California is a huge state with different water-related problems,” Adar said. “It is not that there is a lack of water– there is enough — but it just isn’t managed well enough at the moment. For several generations, local and municipal water utilities and farmers enjoyed senior and later junior water rights. In addition, utilization of groundwater and other water resources have been poorly coordinated – if at all.

“We barely understand this natural resource, how it rejuvenates and how it flows. Yet we need to come to terms with the fact that it is a gift from nature. Water does not recognize farm’s boundaries, water utility or municipal boundaries and it will flow without honoring fences or districts, it will absorb pollutants without our control.”

Adar believes that, just because Californians pay for water, they still don’t think of it as a commodity. In California, farmers have their own water rights, and they deal with the precious liquid however they choose, without much concern for the environment or the down-stream repercussions, unless they are obliged by law. Many farmers were granted individual water rights back in the forties and many even much earlier before 1914. Californian farmers have never before considered this issue to be a statewide crisis.

“I just met with farmers who responded, “This is my water!” Adar explained. “Now, these farmers have commercial cash crops, but due to the drought, barely sufficient water supply for their huge farms. Also, the quality of the water is perpetually deteriorating. For instance, on one farm that I toured I could see that the surface was healthy, but the groundwater situation has already deteriorated. I had to explain to the farmer that his water had deteriorated because the cities and farms that are located up-stream to his ranch are polluting the water that flows under his property.

This can be changed if farmers understand the logistics and work together. “The American economy allows for independent businesses to thrive, but in the case of water, this approach is not so successful. If you want to maintain the availability of water the utility companies have to work together. There must be an overseeing water authority for the entire region and its water basin, not just advisory boards. Water utilization must be at least coordinated among all stakeholders in a holistic approach.”

Each community, world region and country manages its water differently. Adar explained that in Israel, water is treated as a national commodity. This has been the case since before the British Mandate. Available water is controlled and distributed by need. “California dumps treated water after its first use and this is impractical,” Adar explained. “The ocean can wait! It is possible to incentivize farmers to trade their clean water for treated reclaimed water as long each type of water has a price tag and therefore is tradable.”

“Treated greywater” and “reclaimed sewage water” are words we should expect to see in high frequency in the foreseeable future. This is a good thing. Greywater is any lightly used household wastewater. Typically, 50-80 percent of household wastewater is greywater from kitchen sinks, dishwashers, washing machines, bathroom sinks, tubs and showers. The Greywater Action Group is an educational group that teaches more about this, “Greywater may contain traces of dirt, food, grease, hair, and certain household cleaning products. It is a safe and even beneficial source of irrigation water in a yard. “If greywater is released into rivers, lakes, or estuaries, its nutrients become pollutants, but to plants, they are valuable fertilizer. Aside from the obvious benefits of saving water (and money on your water bill), reusing your greywater keeps it out of the sewer or septic system. Reusing greywater for irrigation reconnects urban residents and our backyard gardens to the natural water cycle.”

And blackwater? As far away as Australia, Boat Owners Associations are warning members, “Blackwater is any waste from a toilet or urinal. It contains disease causing organisms that can result in human illness by direct contact or by consumption of affected fish and shellfish. It also contributes to the build-up of unwanted nutrients in ecosystems. Under no circumstances are blackwater discharges into a river permitted.” Given the pollutants in blackwater, it is generally discarded as worthless, but treatments are now translating blackwater into a usable effluent which can be safely used in flushing toilets and building cooling systems. In American, there are a variety of ways that reclaimed sewage water is being reengineered. Mostly it is through bioreactors, but there are also successful systems that filter the water through engineered wetlands.

Is California facing a water challenge? It is. Fortunately an abundance of new approaches are being implemented and publicized. It is just possible that water independence will become a reality, not a dream. But this is no easy task. It will take statewide coordination and a revised management system that will have to adopt the holistic water utilization and treatment approach.

The Jewish Response to the Californian Drought: A Q&A with Rabbi Kalman Topp, Senior Rabbi of Beth Jacob

Rabbi Topp

The Jewish Home: From a Jewish perspective, what should be our response to the drought?

Rabbi Topp: Judaism teaches us to feel responsible for our surroundings and we should be deeply concerned about the current drought. The simple fact is that California is running out of water. With regards to our response, throughout life and certainly during times of crisis, the Torah teaches us to take a dual approach.
Firstly, there is the important element of human initiative where we are each required to take pragmatic steps to improve a challenging situation. These steps require a combination of hard work, wisdom, creativity and, as necessary, seeking out the advice from those with specialized expertise.

Secondly, we believe in the power and effectiveness of prayer. Sometimes the answer is no, but we need to remember to turn to G-d in times of crisis and sincerely request for his assistance.

Regarding the California drought we should employ this dual approach. Every person needs to do his or her part. Our elected officials should continue to address the crisis by taking necessary steps, including, as appropriate, water conservation, water re-use, drip irrigation and even seawater desalination. There is much that we can learn from Israel in this regard. Then, the other element that we must remember, as religious people, is that we should turn to G-d and sincerely pray for rain.


TJH: Is the lack of rain a consequence from G-d for the behavior of man?

RT: This is hard to say. We don’t fully understand the way G-d runs the world and His system of reward and punishment. What we do know is the more we take action, and the more we pray and connect with Hashem, the better off we’ll be.

TJH: What kinds of prayers should we be saying for rain?

RT: From the last day of Sukkot until Pesach we praise G-d by saying that He causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall. From December 4 until Pesach, we go further and request rain by adding the words “v’ten tal umattar livracha”- please give us dew and rains of blessing. Traditionally these prayers for rain are not expressed during the summer months. However, with the current situation, I think it is appropriate and a good idea to include the prayer of “v’ten tal umattar livracha” in the concluding elokai netzor paragraph of the Amidah. We can and should also say Psalms. This morning at the Beth Jacob minyan, I brought these suggestions to people’s attention and we said a chapter of Psalms together as a plea to G-d to provide for us and the State of California.

TJH: Are there any other lessons one can learn from the drought?

One might suggest that the silver lining is that the lack of water is bringing a sensitivity to our communities about this precious natural resource and reminds us to not take water for granted. Before we drink a glass of water, we recite the bracha of shehakol—that everything was created through the word of G-d. Why do we thank G-d for everything? Rabbi Yisroel Salanter suggested that when we take a sip of water, we thank Him not just for the water. We are inspired to take a moment to also express our gratitude for the oceans, streams, the mountains and the ambience of creation—for Shehakol- for all parts of creation. Let us remember to thank G-d for all we have and may G-d bless the State of California, the U.S, Israel and the world with rain and prosperity.

An Update on California’s Water Shortage

By Bracha Turner.

Summer is upon us and water is in high demand, but reservoirs are low and summer storms are far from the parched state of California. It’s been a crippling four-year drought and again there are record-low levels of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which accounts for a third of California’s total water supply. Meanwhile, new homes and swimming pools put an even greater demand on the dwindling supply of water. Now is the time to welcome drought measures and water preservation plans that are being encouraged and enforced as part of a statewide conservation strategy.

Governor Jerry Brown firmly responded to concerns that households are not meeting the proposed 20% cut in water usage, and are reaching only half that requirement. He explained the facts, “We’re in a historic drought and that demands unprecedented action.” In April, he issued an Executive Order mandating that urban populations across California must reduce water usage by 25%. This reduction is to be implemented by the State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB). This is the first time there have been mandatory water restrictions.

California Gov. Jerry Brown declaring a drought emergency. Justin Sullivan - Getty Images

California Gov. Jerry Brown declaring a drought emergency. Justin Sullivan – Getty Images

Individual cities and communities are facing mandatory reductions from 4% up to 36%, based on their water usage in 2013 but the order was revised to accommodate complaints from cities where residents were already reporting lower per capita water use. The percent of reduction in each city was revised to reflect water usage from July, August and September of last year, where water consumption is typically at its highest. Beverly Hills was listed among the highest water users and therefore faces mandatory water reductions in the highest tier of 36%. Los Angeles and Long Beach must cut back by 16%.

In fact, 80% of California’s water supply is used in commercial farming, but it is only residential use being targeted in these new regulations. This does not mean that commercial farming has it easy. The California Farm Bureau reported that in 2014 there were 500,000 acres of farmland forced out of production due to water shortages. This year, that number will double.

Droughts in California’s recent history have exceeded seven years and the decision to end the drought is, of course, not in our hands. Texas and Oklahoma are also suffering and it is anticipated that the drought will spread to other states. Until the rivers flow, water conservation at every level, both indoors and outdoors, is the key to sustainable living.

How can water agencies and state agencies implement water cuts?


Water use is greatest in outdoor irrigation so water-wise landscaping is essential and outdoor watering is the principal target. If the goals are not implemented properly by water agencies, the state could impose fines of up to $10,000 a day.
To meet statewide water restrictions and to curb your water usage, you need to remember the following:

1. Instead of washing down sidewalks and driveways, which is prohibited, use a broom and a bucket of (recycled) water if necessary. Sweep, don’t hose.

2. Fix your broken sprinklers and sprinklers that leak onto the sidewalk instead of onto your lawn. Excess runoff is prohibited.

3. If your car is dirty, you may only use a hose with a shutoff nozzle to spray it clean. Otherwise, hosing your car down is prohibited. Better yet, visit a retail car wash facility that recycles water. (Tip: the earlier in the day you go, the cleaner is the water.)

4. Permanently turn off fountains and decorative water features that don’t recirculate water.

5. Learn how to turn off your sprinkler system for 48 hours following measurable rainfall.

And in case you haven’t noticed, the following actions have been put in place and are reported on the LA County Waterworks Districts and SWRCB websites:

Restaurants can only serve water to customers on request.

Operators of hotels and motels must provide guests with the option of choosing not to have towels and linens laundered daily and prominently display notice of this option.

Newly constructed homes and buildings can only irrigate outdoors with drip or microspray systems (It would help if all homeowners replaced their sprinkler systems with drip systems.)

Public street medians that are merely ornamental should not be watered.

info table

Does Los Angeles provide any rebates or incentives for reducing water?

The turf replacement program was very popular, but recently in Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) has had to reassess whether to continue offering these incentives. It says that due to an overwhelming number of applications, it has already exceeded the $100 million budget allotted for cash-for-grass programs. The Water District board is considering allotting an additional $150 million towards the program in a meeting this month.

In Los Angeles, the rebates were previously set at over $2 per square foot with an additional $1.75 offered by the DWP (Department of Water and Power) and applications filled in quickly, especially after the mandatory cuts were announced on April 1st. (If the program continues, there will likely be limits in place for lawns exceeding 1500 square feet, reducing the cash rebate per square foot to $1 per square foot for every additional foot.) You can check on the MWD website (mwdturf.conservationrebates.com) whether you qualify for the rebate.

Be aware that most rebates are offered for the replacement of green lawns—not lawns that are already dry. The rebate process typically takes up to 10 weeks and in addition to the application itself, residents need to submit 5 photos of their lawns and a recent water bill.

Will the State Water Board implement a tiered rate structure to try to minimize water usage?

Most water districts in California already implement a tiered rate structure for water usage. According to the L.A. Times, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power also employs a tiered rate structure, but it has only two tiers separated by less than $2 in price. In other counties, that rate is significantly disparate with the highest tier measuring almost $7 more per unit of water. Such was the case with a recent appellate court ruling in San Juan Capistrano, where residents successfully challenged the outrageously higher tiered rates. This ruling was based on Proposition 218 which Californians voted on in 1996. It mandated that water providers cannot charge more than the cost of delivering the service.

While the governor, water agencies, and even environmentalists would like to see tiered rate structures to maximize conservation, the court ruling’s final decision begs the question of whether it’s legally permissible to do so. The case could provide legal precedence for other districts to be sued for similar tiered structures.

What more can I do?

Visit www.Wateruseitwisely.com for 100+ tips on how you can help conserve water at home. Take tests and read tips on how to reduce water usage indoors and outdoors.