AS CALIFORNIA contends with one of the most se- vere droughts in its history, the public, business leaders, the agriculture industry, and
others have had to reduce water
consumption by at least a mandated 25 percent in urban areas
and an equal percentage voluntarily in certain agricultural areas.
There is certainly no easy solution to this seemingly unremitting problem, but civil engineers
are finding themselves called
upon with increasing frequency
to help determine means of finding, saving, capturing, storing,
and recycling water—every drop
of which is regarded as precious.
In his article “Engineering for
Every Drop,” which begins on
page 46, the magazine’s senior
editor, Robert L. Reid, discusses
various solutions to the multiple
facets of the drought problem,
from desalination to cloud seeding to the use of 100 mil-
lion black plastic balls to cover the Los Angeles Reservoir
and conserve approximately 300 million gal of water each
year by reducing evaporation. If there is good news to be
reported from this situation, Reid concludes, it is “that the
current conditions are making people think about drought
in a region that has long had precarious water conditions.”
An article entitled “California Turns to Aus-
tralia for Drought Advice,” published by the As-
sociated Press on May 26, noted that
four years into a drought forcing mandatory 25 per-
cent water cutbacks this year, Californians have taken a
keen interest in how Australia coped with its ‘Big Dry,’
a torturous drought that stretched across the millenni-
um, from the late 1990s through 2012. Australia’s city
dwellers had to accept tough water restrictions as cat-
tle collapsed and died in barren fields, monstrous wild-
fires killed 173 people, and scores of farms went under.
But by the time the rains returned, Australia had
fundamentally changed how it handles water, follow-
ing landmark reforms to more carefully mete out allo-
cations and cutbacks. Today, Australia treats water as a
commodity to be conserved and traded. The system also
better measures what water is available, and efficien-
cy programs have cut average daily water use to 55 gal,
compared with 105 gal per day for each Californian....
But Californians may find Australia’s medicine
tough to swallow. Australians are accustomed to living
in a dry land, expect government intervention in a cri-
sis, and largely support making sacrifices for the com-
mon good. For much of their history, many Califor-
nians have enjoyed abundant water, or were able to divert
enough of it to turn deserts green, and highly paid law-
yers ensure that property rights remain paramount.
Food for thought.
ANNE ELIZABETH POWELL
Editor in Chief C O
Nearly 100 million black plastic “shade balls” were used to cover the Los Angeles Reservoir in an effort that was designed to comply with water quality regulations but should
also save approximately 300 million gal of water annually by reducing evaporation.