Friday, February 20, 2015

In Southern California, Rain Barrels Allow Cost Effective Water Storage


First rain of the season at Casa Carrie in Simi Valley, California will soon green-up the hills - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

In Southern California, Rain Barrels Allow Cost Effective Water Storage

In California, and throughout the West, residents who care about long-term environmental viability are monitoring and changing their water usage habits. Here at Casa Carrie, we have been replacing water-hungry outdoor plants. Our new landscape features succulents capable of growing in our now warmer, drier climate. In our parkway, we replaced eighty percent of the lawn with slabs of Arizona sandstone. In our shower and tub, we have five-gallon buckets ready to capture water previously lost during the warm-up Succulents, driftwood, sandstone and a brass bowl create a water-wise environment at Casa Carrie in Simi Valley, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)process.

In November 2014, we purchased two fifty-gallon rain barrels. At that time, I assumed that Southern Californians would want to save every gallon of rainwater runoff possible. While that may be true, companies that sell rain collection barrels focus their marketing efforts on consumers in the Midwest, where summer storms are often plentiful.

An accompanying brochure scolded us not to leave our rain barrels out in freezing weather. If freeze damage occurs, it will void our warrantee. “Store your rain barrel indoors during winter months”, we were admonished. Copywriters of the brochure may wish to add “In cold climates” to their verbiage. At Casa Carrie, in Simi Valley, California, we rarely have frosty nights, even in midwinter. Unlike many Midwestern or Eastern states, Southern Large slabs of Arizona sandstone cover former lawn area on the parkway at Casa Carrie in Simi Valley, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)California gets almost all of its rainfall during the winter, between November and March.

After visiting our local Do-It Center, Home Depot and Lowe’s Home Improvement Center, we realized that not one brick and mortar store in our area stocked rain barrels of any kind. I can picture Midwestern marketing types believing the hype that “it never rains in Southern California”. If so, who in Southern California would want a rain barrel? My answer is that every homeowner in Southern California should want one or more.

After a Google search, I located the “Good Ideas 50 gal. Khaki Rain Wizard” on the Home Depot website. At just under $100 each, I ordered two, plus a A fifty-gallon rain barrel stands ready for the first rain of the season in Simi Valley, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)sturdy plastic stand for each barrel. With free shipping from Michigan to California, the total cost for two barrels and stands came to $285. With a $150 rebate expected soon from our local water agency, our net cost for two barrels and stands was $135.

In December 17, 2014, four cartons arrived via United Parcel Service. Shipped from Michigan, the cartons looked like they had traversed an international war zone. Fortunately, the barrels, stands and hardware packages arrived mostly undamaged. Setup consisted of unpacking, and then using a wrench to thread the brass spigots into pre-threaded plastic holes near the base of each barrel. I found it difficult to tell if I was cross-threading the spigot as I turned the wrench. I suggest drop-shipping your barrels to a local Home Depot and then having them install the spigots, free of charge. After setup, the stands were strong and wide enough to stay upright, even on uneven ground. With their faux whiskey barrel appearance, the barrels blended nicely into our garden.

Local TV meteorologist points to Doppler radar image of storm clouds over Simi Valley, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)After placing each barrel under a rain gutter downspout, all we needed was some rain. By the next morning, we received about one third inch of rain, which quickly filled both barrels. Actually, one barrel was full and the other had a small pinhole leak on the “winter-storage hanging knobs” found near the top of each barrel. By the time I discovered the leak, I had recycled the shipping cartons. My easiest recourse was to keep the barrel and try to patch the hole with some glue. So far, that process has not been successful.

Reflecting on “quality control” back at the factory, I thought, “Hey, it’s a rain barrel. Shouldn’t it at least hold water?” Maybe the “Good Ideas” people should use an inspection lamp to check for pinhole leaks and then cushion the After a December rain, both of our fifty-gallon rain barrels were full to the brim - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgfillis.com)protruding knobs prior to shipment. An upgrade in the shipping cartons and heavier packing tape might help avoid damage to both the cartons and the barrels on their long trip to California.

After fixing the leaky barrel, I will have 100 gallons available for rainwater storage. With a net price after rebates of $135, that meant my first hundred gallons of rainwater cost me $1.35 per gallon. Luckily, we were able to use all 100 gallons before the next storm hit. Although the second storm brought less rain, runoff again filled each barrel. By then, my cost for stored rainwater had dropped in half, to $.68 per gallon. At first, that seems like a lot of money for such a modest collection of water. However, we can now reap the benefits of chlorine-free garden water for decades to come.

Now, in mid-February 2015, blizzards and freezing weather continue to lash New England. Boston has received over six feet of snow in less than a month. Here in Simi Valley, California, it is eighty degrees Fahrenheit outside and there is no precipitation in the forecast. Since December 2014, Mother Nature Southern Californians often speed up in the rain to enjoy hydroplaning along crowded freeways, at least until they crash into each other - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)has filled our rain barrels three times. Along with the other buckets that we used to collect rain and shower water, we have saved and reused over six hundred gallons during this rainy season alone.

Here is an idea for homeowners all over Southern California and the West. Rather than letting your rainwater run into storm drains, install rain barrels and residential cisterns throughout California. If all homeowners participated, California and the West could save untold amounts of our most precious resource, which is clean potable water available to all.







Friday, February 6, 2015

In California, Private Lakes Scramble for Sustainable New Water Sources


The dam at Westlake, California is one of the widest private concrete dams in California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In California, Private Lakes Scramble for Sustainable New Water Sources

In 2014, California state government began to take the Great Western Drought seriously. The state legislature passed bills to authorize the sale of over $7.0 billion in “water bonds”. That legislation aimed to add more long-term water storage, clean up polluted groundwater and regulate indiscriminate water mining. For the first time, California required local and regional water officials to manage their ever-shrinking supply of groundwater. Although the legislation may provide some relief a decade hence, we expect to see little relief from current water shortages.

Westlake, in Westlake Village, is one of the larger private recreation lakes in Southern California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)About eighty percent of the developed water supply in the state goes to the seemingly insatiable needs of California’s agribusiness. Even so, the governor recently asked all Californians to reduce water usage by at least twenty percent. During 2014, Northern California scored better on water saving than Southern California. Did necessity or indifference drive Southern Californians to use more water per capita than their northern neighbors?

In Orange County, California, Lake Mission Viejo is a reservoir created solely for the private recreation of its members. With a surface area of 124 acres and an average depth of thirty feet, that “fake lake” comprises 3,720 acre-feet of water. According to water management standards in the U.S., a water supply of that size could support 3,720 suburban households for one year.

Canada Geese are among the largest avian visitors to Westlake. Here, a male and female sun themselves near the lake - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Rather than devoting lake water to the needs of all Californians, the association that owns Lake Mission Viejo dedicates the lake to the exclusive water sports and scenic enjoyment of its members. Although the Lake Mission Viejo Association is exploring ways to reduce water usage in and around the lake, currently they fill their lake with up to eighty-eight million gallons of drinking water each year.

In the 1960s, during the creation of Westlake Village, California, developers dammed up Lower Triunfo Canyon, and then dubbed the seasonally dry arroyo "Westlake". Upon completion of the planned community, the Westlake Lake Management Association (WMA) became responsible for dredging, maintaining and refilling the lake as necessary.

Spokesmodel Carrie McCoy at Boccaccio's Restaurant in Westlake Village, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)As the ongoing water crisis in California intensified, WMA found that traditional groundwater sources for its own “fake lake” were dry. In order to keep Westlake full and its surrounding property values high, WMA recently tapped potable (culinary) water supplies. With summer evaporation rates of over 900 gallons per minute, seasonal inflow of potable water at the lake is equal to a two-outlet fire hydrant fed by a twelve-inch water main.

Similar to Lake Mission Viejo, there is limited public access to the shoreline at Westlake. One can enjoy a sunny winter afternoon on the patio at Boccaccio’s Restaurant, and then stroll along a promenade adjacent to the lake. In keeping with the tranquil atmosphere of the place, all private watercrafts on Westlake are either electric boats or sailboats. From a residential perspective, Sailboats cover the docks at the Westlake Yacht Club in Westlake Village, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Westlake is an idyllic setting. With the tightening of domestic water supplies throughout California, residents and visitors alike should enjoy the lake while they can.

In the second half of the twentieth century, development of new “fake lakes” in the desert-like conditions of Southern California was still a viable business option. Lake Mission Viejo and Westlake are prominent examples of a Southern California trend that ended when developers finished filling Lake Mission Viejo with imported water in 1978. At both lakes, unscrupulous or ignorant developers sold aspiring Southern California homeowners “lakefront property” adjacent to potentially unsustainable bodies of water.

Author Jim McGillis at Westlake Village in February 2015 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In 2014, many water wells ran dry throughout Southern and Central California. Hardest hit were the poor and working class communities of the San Joaquin Valley. Ironically, irrigation districts in the same area consume almost half of the developed water supply in the state. In that area, farmers cherish their nut tree crops, which are notorious water wasters. There are credible estimates that it takes one gallon of irrigation water to create a single almond. With 944,000 acres of nut tree crops planted in Central California, just “a can a week” is all that the Almond Board of California TV ads ask us to consume. If their ads admitted that production of just one can of almonds requires several hundred gallons of water, how many of us would buy a can each week?

Many San Joaquin Valley farm workers and their families bathe with buckets of cold water and rely on donated bottled water to survive. Meanwhile, residents of Westlake Village and Lake Mission Viejo, ply their exclusive lakes on electric boats, eating California almonds and drinking Perrier.

In February 2015, no water ran down Triunfo Creek and into Westlake, in Westlake Village, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)It is a free country and if you have the money, you can buy the resources for your own pleasure. With luck and money, you can keep an unsustainable lifestyle going long enough to sell your fake lakefront property to the next true believer. If I owned lakefront property in either community, I would sell my property and move away while the lakes are full and the unsuspecting are still ready to purchase. After all, every bubble must someday burst.