We wanted it. We’ve got it. Now what do we do with it?
As this article reports, recently drought-stricken California has so far this year received enough rain to provide a year’s worth of water for 14 million people—more than a third of the state’s population— if only we had a place to store it. Instead, much of it ran into the ocean.
We’ve explored the idea in Stormwater magazine of designing stormwater management facilities with an eye to enhancing water supplies, but for the most part, few cities have large-scale plans of this sort.
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One of the traditional ways of capturing water—building dams and enlarging reservoirs—has fallen out of favor. No new dams have been built in California since the 1970s, when the state had only half as many people as it does today. Suddenly, some people are seeing the need to build them. So are officials in other states, including Florida and Colorado. But dams—many of which have been removed in recent years for environmental or safety reasons—are controversial and hard to get approved. Diverting rainwater to fields where it can infiltrate and replenish groundwater supplies is another strategy being considered in many places, including Los Angeles County.
The Wall Street Journal article mentioned above quotes the chief of infrastructure investigations for the California Department of Water Resources: “The system we have was built more than 40 years ago, and it is doing more than it was planned to do.” That statement, unfortunately, could be made about much of the country’s infrastructure.
The American Society of Civil Engineers released its 2017 report card on America’s infrastructure on March 9; as with the last one in 2013, the overall grade is still a dismal D+. Dams, levees, and drinking water infrastructure each received a D. In addition to the condition and safety of the various pieces of infrastructure, one criterion for grading it is its capacity: will it meet current and future demands?
Besides building new dams, dredging new reservoirs, or expanding existing ones, are you aware of smaller-scale projects in your area to capture and use rainwater, even on a lot-level but widespread scale like distributing rain barrels?