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Adapting to Drought in California by Barnard Blogger Lauren Hayashi

I have chosen to write about my personal experience involving climate change in my hometown of San Luis Obispo, California. I was in my senior year of high school when the drought of 2013/2014 occurred. During this drought, California experienced its driest twelve- month period on record. The state only had one-third of its average precipitation. Over the years I have had the pleasure of witnessing a change of culture to adapt to increasingly scarce water resources. But it was the 2013/2014 drought that galvanized the community effort to conserve water.

There were a few unique practices that were brought upon by living in a drought-affected community that were meant to promote water conservation. For example, in communities where car washes are commonplace, kids often write with their fingers “Wash Me.” However, once our community became aware of deficient water resources, there was a trend to replace “Wash Me” with “Save Water.” The dust was almost a trophy of saving water because it showed an effort to look past the dust on the windows in order to skip the car wash and save water. Another practice was how students were taught in school to minimize the amount of water wasted. It was hammered into our minds to avoid running the sink when brushing our teeth, to have minimal faucet flow while washing the dishes, to only run the dish washer and laundry machine when there were full loads, and to take showers as quickly as possible. In fact, in some of our local gym locker rooms, there were systems installed in the showers to keep the person taking a shower cognizant of the length of the shower.  A yellow light would flash after five minutes in the shower and then a red one after seven minutes. A big change that was seen was in the concept of grass.  The slogan “gold is the new green” was applied where it was frowned upon to maintain lush green grass – a sign of frequent watering. Many of my neighbors let their grass turn gold by turning off their sprinklers; my family let our grass die and eventually the land turned into a dirt covered by dry leaves. Some neighbors changed their land by switching the grass for a rock garden with plants that do not require large amounts of water such as cacti. Sometimes the owners would even post a small sign with a water conservation message to promote this practice. To further the modifications with respect to grass, the local government outlawed turning on sprinkler systems during the day and urged home owners to set the system to water the grass at night to minimize evaporation.

My community took a negative consequence of climate change, a severe drought, and turned it into a community endeavor for water conservation. The drought made our perception of water change from an unlimited resource that we can mindlessly use to it being a valuable resource that we must ration. I still remember how happy I was when my mother called me and told me that Gov. Jerry Brown announced the end of the drought. I believe that our practices contributed to the end of the drought – although we could not manipulate weather we could manipulate how we used our resources. I can only hope that we continue the practices of conserving water, and that other communities follow as well.




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5 Responses

  1. It is interesting that Lauren writes about changing perceptions her community had on water resources. I think that such changes in perception is crucial to sustainability. Although we are already on the path to global warming, we should attempt to change our communities’ perceptions on our resources before a crisis, like that of the drought in California, occurs.

  2. Your firsthand experience with dealing with a drought is a great insight into the issue. It seems your community really came together to combat the drought and extend conservation efforts. This is really admirable of your community. Do you think that the drought affected people’s views on climate change? I think when people have a real experience with the negative effects that they will begin to take the threat of climate change more seriously. Additionally, I’d be curious to see what your community is doing now in terms of conservation. I think in times of severe need like droughts it’s easier to adapt than when you’re simply living your every day life. Thank you for sharing your experience and I’d really like to know if your community has continued its’ conservation efforts.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Lauren. We’ve been attempting to follow local efforts when dealing with environmental problems and climate change in our series City By City.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Lauren! The efforts that your community has made to adapt to drought conditions are admirable and can certainly teach even non-drought-prone communities about wise resource management. I’m curious about the role that education plays in establishing these habits. In your schools, for example, was resource conservation formally embedded in the curriculum, or was the culture adopted more informally?

  4. This is a great account of how a community really stepped up to ameliorate their actions in the face of climate change effects. Did this inspire community organizations to continue/expand on these efforts? Even after the drought was over, were people more cognizant of water usage, and did this create permanent change? How did these conservation efforts affect water-intensive industries around the area? Finally, did these efforts and the drought alert people to the reality of climate change?

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