How California businesses are adapting to water shortages
As the severe drought in California continues for a third year, water levels in lakes and reservoirs throughout the state are reaching historic lows. Despite earlier hope that El Niño would provide some major relief, recent analysis sheds doubt on how big an impact the climate pattern will have. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, we have gone from 28 percent of the state in an extreme or exceptional drought at the beginning of the year, to 82 percent of the state experiencing these levels today. In our 2014 California Small Business Survey, 59 percent of business said the drought would have no effect on their business. But, while we’ll likely experience some drought relief in the coming years, California may be trending toward a drier future in which water shortages are common. With this in mind, some businesses are taking more permanent steps to reduce their water waste impact long-term.
Changing with the weather
Of course, California growers are among the most affected by severe drought. To protect their businesses, many have installed high-technology irrigation systems that allow watering with treated municipal wastewater. A large number of growers have also begun to switch from commodity crops to more high-value crops, such as pistachios, almonds and wine grapes, which make more money from the water used to grow them.
But growers are not the only ones who have started adapting their businesses to accommodate less water use. The high-growth hydraulic fracturing industry has begun replacing traditional extraction and treatment methods with more innovative and advanced water treatment equipment. Companies are beginning to treat water on-site with UV light and some are using desalination technologies to treat water. Some companies are even able to sell water produced from their activities to local water districts.
Even small businesses are making effective changes. Many plumbing contractors are increasingly offering water conserving systems and products to attract more customers. Rainwater-harvesting systems have become very popular in the region for environmentally conscious homes and businesses, and can provide tax credits as well.
Since water is a vital component of beer, many of California’s hundreds of craft brewers are also realizing that changes to water consumption are necessary to secure their future. Brewers are making changes to reduce, recycle and reclaim their own water, with some installing wastewater pre-treatment plants.
Even car washes are looking for ways to use less water. Many are taking permanent steps to increase water recycling, as well as using high-pressure systems that require less water to clean. Another increasingly popular option is waterless washes that use no-rinse solutions. Hertz recently switched to waterless washing at over 200 non-airport locations, which will save 130 million gallons of water per year.
What can you do?
It may be a good time to consider how your business can put in place more permanent solutions to reduce water consumption. Are there ways your business can prepare for a drier future by changing processes?
Here are some great sites to get you started on making changes within your business:
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can offer assistance in assessing your needs and creating an action plan.
- Watersense is a partner program of the EPA and has a wide range of tools for planning water-efficient changes at your business.
- CoolCalifornia offers information on many ways to reduce water usage in your business from simple, low-cost investments to longer-term solutions.
- You can also find useful ways to conserve energy in our previous blog about the drought, “Help your business weather the California drought.”
- There may also be resources near your business that can help you plan and implement changes.
- For those in San Francisco, San Francisco Green Business can help provide an on-site assessment of your business’ water usage.
- For those in the East Bay, The East Bay Municipal Utility District offers commercial conservation rebates and services including water surveys.
- For those in the L.A. area, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power can help your business comply with water-saving mandates like the City of Los Angeles Landscape Ordinance and the City of Los Angeles Irrigation Guidelines.
- For those in the San Diego area, the City of San Diego offers a Commercial Landscape Survey Program free of charge that can audit irrigation systems and give practical advice and recommendations.