Rain is rare to come across in many parts of California, even during the winter months. However, these past weeks have seen some of the greatest storms yet, and many residents are struggling to get used to it—just like California’s water retention infrastructure.
Our rivers, lakes and reservoirs are not the only places where rainwater is ending up. Thanks to this winter’s weather pattern being so unusual, much of California’s infrastructure is ending up flooded as many buildings are not built to withstand such a large volume of water all at once.
Typically, water runoff from the roads and sidewalks naturally travels downstream through the gutters and into the sewers, which then go to a water treatment facility and then lead to the Pacific Ocean. Rain that falls on land is absorbed by the earth and becomes groundwater. However, both of these systems are more likely to malfunction after long periods of drought, like that which California is experiencing.
Drought affects our drainage systems because they are not being used regularly thanks to the numerous and lengthy dry spells characteristic of California. As a result, a lot of debris has been left in the bottoms of sewers without anything to wash it away, meaning it is easier for this drainage system to be clogged when the dust and dirt all float back to the surface. Similarly, the ground cannot easily absorb large amounts of water once it has been dry for a long time, as the dirt has already compacted and solidified and does not want to take in more moisture.
On top of that, rainy freeways cause oils that have been trapped in the ground to rise up to the surface, which can lead to car accidents along many of our major roads due to decreased traction.
With these phenomena combined, disaster is spelled for residents of areas with heavy rain like Oakland and Santa Cruz, who experienced major flooding already this season.
These cities, among others in California, were completely unprepared for such a massive storm to hit. But even as the rainy weather is coming to an end, not enough measures are being taken by local governments to save all the water that California has collected.
A few big rainstorms here and there will not fix California’s decade-long drought, since there is no guarantee that such weather will continue on later into the year. Rather, all this water will end up flowing back into the Pacific Ocean, as directed by the sewage system. However, this water should be kept in our reservoirs to be used later on, such as for watering parks, lawns, or be used for agriculture, which currently uses up about 80 percent of water in California alone.
The issue is that our reservoirs are not large enough to hold such a vast amount of water at once, and even if it was contained, it would be difficult to prevent it from evaporating once the warmer months roll around. But that does not mean there are no solutions to these problems.
Los Angeles has already used devices called shade balls in order to reduce evaporation. Not only that, making an effort to include more plants such as trees and shrubs in city designs could also prove beneficial to retaining California’s rainwater since they help keep soil intact and hold onto water reliably. But it is still not enough. There is still more we can do to preserve the little water we do receive during the year.
While any amount of rain in California benefits us, these storms have also inadvertently revealed many flaws in how our cities are being maintained or built. These unstable weather patterns should be treated as a warning to prepare should more unpredictable weather patterns to occur.
These erratic weather patterns will most likely have an increased likelihood of occurring in the future, but taking the time to understand how the world works around us is a key factor to staying safe.