The United States cannot afford to waste any more time addressing the climate crisis. It is already drastically impacting the western U.S., particularly California. The Golden State is in the grips of a drought so severe that U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, has designated 50 out of 58 Californian counties as a primary disaster area. The snowpack that California depends upon for 30% of its’ water supply has dried up months early. The state’s 51,000 reservoirs are only at 50% of their average capacity. Low water supplies will hamper hydroelectric power generation, and increase the severity of this year’s wildfire season. The lack of water will also devastate the California’s agricultural industry, which in turn impacts the rest of the U.S as California provides two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts, and over one-third of its vegetables. State officials anticipate that 500,000 acres of agricultural lands will remain unused this year due to water shortages. 
Sometimes, it can be difficult to identify anthropogenic climate change as the specific cause of a natural disaster. However, this is not the case with California’s historic drought. In 2020, researchers from NASA, Columbia University, University of Idaho, University of California Merced, University of Colorado Boulder, and the Universities Space Research Association examined tree-ring constructions and hydrologic models. Their research concluded that the southwestern U.S. is experiencing the second worst megadrought since 800 AD. In addition, the data revealed that 46% of the factors leading to CA’s megadrought were a result of anthropogenic climate change.
Water conservation is crucial even in regions that are not experiencing drought. The water supply that can be used for human consumption is not limitless. Ninety-seven percent of the Earth’s water supply is salt water. Out of the remaining 3% fresh water, 2.5% is stored in glaciers and ice caps, the atmosphere, and the soil. That leaves a mere 0.5% of the Earth’s supply readily available for human consumption. Desalination (removing the salt from seawater) is still prohibitively expensive. In 2015, a thousand gallons of water from a desalination plant costed up to $5 versus $2 for a thousand gallons from a traditional plant, due to the massive energy requirements. Researchers are working on improving the desalination process through more efficient membranes and developing better methods of handling the leftover brine.
Conserving water ensures that the maximum possible amount is available to ecosystems, human communities, and farms. Critically, it reduces the impacts of droughts and water shortages. There are also economic benefits to individuals and communities in conserving water. Water conservation reduces the costs and energy demands of wastewater treatment, and results in lower household water bills.
There are many ways that individuals can take steps to conserve precious water. Some tips from the non-profit “The Water Project” include:
- Always turn taps off tightly to stop dripping.
- Promptly repair any leaks.
- Install an aerator and/or a water flow-reducer attachment on taps.
- Never continuously run water when hand-washing dishes.
- Only run dishwashers with full loads and use the shortest cycle possible. Many dishwashers have a conserver/water-miser cycle.
- During teeth-brushing, turn the tap off when not actively using water.
- Never continuously run the water when washing or shaving.
- Install low-flow shower heads or adjustable flow-reducer devices.
- Only run a clothes washer with a full load, using the shortest possible cycle.
- Look for eco-friendly cleaning products that will not contribute to water pollution.
- Instead of watering a lawn for a short period every day, water lawns only every three to five days, and only during the morning or evening when it is cooler.
- Never over-water to compensate for an anticipated shortage – the soil will not be able to store the excess water.
- Use shut-off or on-off timers for sprinklers.
As our climate crisis continues, everyone will have to learn to live with water shortages. However, each one of us can take a proactive role in reducing our water consumption at home which will help prevent future shortages. We can also volunteer for organizations such as Climate First! and coalitions like Stop the Money Pipeline that are fighting against dangerous pipelines that contribute to climate change and water pollution. The time is now to battle the climate crisis, and preserve our limited water supplies.