Battling Drought with Private Reservoirs


With Gov. Brown announcing emergency statewide water restrictions this week, pumping out free rain barrels by local water agencies is one way to make a dent in the drought when and if it does rain.

To help customers grab every drop of rain or drip of dew, the Laguna Beach County Water District is ready to give away up to four 60-gallon rain barrels to every customer. With 162 already claimed, the district still has 113 rain barrels on site.

With rain, however, not on the horizon and no snow much less snow pack in the Sierra, the governor asked cities on Wednesday to reduce water usage to as much as 25 percent, up from the 20 percent Laguna Beach has already achieved. Depending on past performance, the state will consider imposing $10,000-a-day fines on noncompliant water districts. Local agencies will decide on how to reach mandated goals.

Golf courses, hotels, campuses, businesses and homes with large landscaped lots were specifically pinpointed for water curtailment.

Snow pack is the lowest on record, officials said Wednesday, due to high temperatures and lack of storms. “That’s our reservoir,” Mark Ghilarducci, state Office of Emergency Services director, said in a press conference. Californians are going to have to change the casual way they use water, he said, and become more conscientious about the “precious” resource.

“This is a drought we’ve not seen before nor have your parents or grandparents,” said Felicia Marcus, State Water Resources Control Board chair. Farms, she said, are already dealing with harsh restrictions.

So every drop is crucial, says Christopher Regan, assistant general manager of the Laguna Beach County Water District. “Initially, I think most people thought we haven’t had enough rain to catch in a rain barrel but I think most people with a rain barrel will tell you that even on a dewy morning, especially near the ocean, something is coming off the roof.”

The governor’s order calls for replacing a collective 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with drought-tolerant native plants and prohibits new development from irrigating with potable water.

So far, 2015 is already rated as the driest year in California since 1895, according to state records. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is considering mandatory water-rationing by summer unless conditions change and reducing landscape watering days even further to one day from three.

California’s “state of emergency” four-year drought is compounded by a drop in urban water conservation efforts to 9 percent from 22, says the state water board. During January, the driest January in recorded history, per capita water use inched up.

The drought isn’t the only reason to roll out rain barrels. Catching rain prevents urban runoff. “It’s protecting the ocean from water that’s coming off your roof and rolling down your driveway and catching all that oil, asbestos (from brake pads) and other garbage on its way down to the ocean. It’s a good double-whammy,” he said.

That’s important in Laguna Beach, says Regan, where all hills drain to the sea. “There’s a direct correlation between the water that’s coming off of your property and what’s going on in the ocean,” he said.

During the first rainstorm in December, Andrea Adelson from South Laguna put an empty trash can under a dripping corner of the patio roof to catch the sudden ephemeral run-off. It took less than an hour to fill to the brim, she said. Total rainfall for that storm in Laguna was 1.3 inches.

With a roof covering 1,000 square feet, one inch of rainfall can equal 623 gallons of captured rain, if there’s something to catch it, said Regan. To make sure there is, the water district is offering the free rain barrels with all the parts to hook it up, including a two-inch drill bit.

Across-the-board mandatory water-rationing is needed immediately, and, like rainfall, is long overdue, said NASA scientist and UC Irvine professor Jay Famiglietti. “We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek, too,” said the hydrology and climate expert. “A recent Field Poll showed that 94 percent of Californians surveyed believe that the drought is serious, and that one-third support mandatory rationing,” he wrote in a March 21 Los Angeles Times editorial.

The free rain barrel offer to Laguna Beach customers has been mailed with monthly water bills to the water district’s 8,500 households and businesses, which serve 20,000 people, said a district spokesperson.

“We got two rain barrels last year in September at the district’s two-day Smartscape Info/Expo,” said resident Tom Lamb. “We had one rain, and they filled right up. This is like low-hanging fruit, right.”

The only catch is you need to use it. The water district checks to make sure the barrel is hooked up within 30 days. If not, expect an extra $75 charge for each barrel on your water bill or return it.

Barrels can be picked up at the water district office, 306 Third St. Renters can nab a free barrel by having the property owner sign an application provided by the district. As the rain barrels are distributed, the numbers are turned into the manufacturer for a rebate of $75 each for the normally $110 barrels. Orange County residents can also go to and apply for the rain-barrel rebate.

Residents of South Laguna, served by the South Coast Water District, can get rain barrels from The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano, which has 250 rain barrels to disperse for $35 each. “If we get 12 inches of rain each year, which is the average, that’s 7,500 gallons of saved water per 1,000-square-foot roof,” deduced Evan Marks, director of The Ecology Center. “What if we all did that?”


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