Drought-Stricken California Community Close To Running Out Of Water

Why the drought still doesn’t seem to matter.

Do a brief scan of social media, and you’ll be hard-pressed to miss the exclamatory headlines: See dramatic pictures of California’s drought! and Sierra snowpack breaks record lows. Most recently NASA scientist Jay Famiglietti entered the fray with the daring headline for his Los Angeles Times’ op-ed: California has about one year of water stored. Will you ration now?

The Central Sierra Snow Laboratory recently reported that snowfall accumulation officially reached zero in March for the first time in history. Many Californians today are suffering due to the drought; towns across the state are even without access to clean drinking water. In rural and agricultural regions, wells are drying up, and local water districts are literally left high and dry. Santa Barbara is now considering bringing a desalination plant, built for a previous drought but never used, out of mothballs.

Famiglietti appropriately comments, “We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too!”

So if the situation is that dire, why is it that no one in my city – San Francisco, CA – seems to be changing his or her attitude toward water consumption?

This month in San Francisco, a panel on water innovation specifically addressed how breakthroughs in water software and beyond can impact the drought today. Panelists were prompted to discuss where water innovation is today and why. They ended up focusing most of the conversation on water pricing, the business of water and the fragmented marketplace of large and very small municipal water districts serving the U.S. today.today. Unlike the energy market, water prices aren’t rising. Californians are likely to use the last drop of water at the lowest price before they make a change.

I find this to be so true. If I had to pay $2 for every minute I was in the shower, I’d probably think twice about extending that shower from 10 to 20 minutes. Yet, isn’t water a basic human right? Shouldn’t water be affordable?

This is the paradigm water entrepreneurs, policy makers and scientists are operating in today. Access to affordable clean water is seen as a basic human right in the United States. Consequently, this means that there is very little economic incentive to save, and the same is true for the incentive to invest in newer, more efficient water technologies.

A study from the American Water Works Association estimates that it will cost the U.S. $1 trillion to bring water infrastructure up to date. California is now playing catch-up with water infrastructure investments. Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency and proposed using $1 billion to pay for drought-related issues and just yesterday he ordered mandatory water restrictions. Critics though say this fund and conversation effort could be too little, too late.

It is clear we need action now—from both politicians and private industry. Business pioneers are pressing forward with new water solutions amid the difficulties with technologies revolutionizing wastewater.

What the innovators seem to have in common is a focus on economics. For example, Cambrian Innovation and OriginOil are two companies both focused on cost-effectively cleaning water for reuse and extracting valuable materials in the process. Many other companies are focused on deploying low-cost technologies that could improve water efficiency—from OptiRTC’s storm-water management platform to WegoWise’s software that identifies water-inefficient buildings. Driving down the cost of water treatment and conservation will encourage businesses to do more with the little we have.

We are making progress, but the path to true sustainable water management still isn’t crystal clear. As a supporter of transformative technologies that solve problems that matter, I believe water innovation will find a way. It just might not be what we expect.

I’m excited to see what the future brings… especially since I don’t want California to run out of water any time soon!

Sarah is an Account Supervisor at Antenna, a communications firm that delivers strategic public relations and content marketing services to innovative organizations bringing transformative energy and technology advancements to market.