Hooray for rain! I’m sure we all enjoyed having some puddles to play in, and I know that the plants an animals appreciated this much needed boost, but we aren’t out of the woods yet as we look forward to a drought year. As we have seen, the watershed and water system is complicated and the health of that system is influenced by many interconnected players, including us.
Humans play an extremely important role in the health of the water. Throughout history humans have learned how to manipulate and direct water for their use. We send water all the way to naturally dry areas where there are now flourishing cities and agriculture! We can store water in reservoirs and use levees to keep water from flooding into important areas like our state’s capital! We can even affect the health of the water by making daily choices about how much to use and what to put in the water—by simply disposing of our household hazardous waste in a safe way, we are making a choice that affects the water.
There are, however, some less intuitive ways that humans interact with nature to affect the water. It is important to remember that the environment is a complex system with checks and balances. Even the health of the forests can affect the health of the water—connecting our redwoods to our kelp in a web of water. As California faces one of the worst droughts in history, each of these players needs to be considered. Forest and fire management is going to play a crucial part, especially in such a dry year. Not only will we have less water to fight fires and more dry forests to fuels fires, we will also have to consider the impact of the runoff, ash and contaminants that are left once the flames are quenched.
Let’s take a look at how water makes it to our tap, and where it goes when it leaves our drains. Water districts have intake pipes far up the watershed—they suck up water and send it to treatment plants to remove the natural and human-caused contaminants before being pumped to our houses. After we use the water, all drains (in buildings) lead to wastewater treatment plants, where a separate system removes our waste before recycling or returning the water to the Bay. These treatment processes are highly regulated to make sure that the water is healthy for us and healthy for the Bay, but they are influenced heavily by the choices we make, from the top of the watershed all the way to the drain.
Even though we’ve had some rain, we still need to think about conserving and protecting the water. California is still short of what it needs to make sure that everyone has enough water—and if there isn’t enough in the reservoirs, the water treatment plants will face another challenge of removing the salt that comes in through the Golden Gate. So keep up the good work conserving water and learning how to protect our watershed!