Let’s Not Forget the Lessons of Drought

“When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.” Though it was said over 200 years ago, this quote by Benjamin Franklin could not be more relevant today in states such as Texas and California. The prospect of long-term droughts and even decades long “mega droughts” has become the new reality in water sourcing for our Western and Southwestern states. Municipalities are struggling with writing new codes and adding new restrictions to make every effort to preserve this critical natural resource. Water efficient fixtures, irrigation restrictions, and higher water rates have become the essential municipal tools to reduce water consumption, and on-site water reuse (water harvesting) is quickly becoming one more tool in that water-conservation toolbox.

But what happens after the rains return? Can we let ourselves forget the lessons learned by drought? Texas was recently given some relief from its four-year water shortage, coming in the form of massive rains. Weeks of torrential rains and flooding hit the state, putting 37 counties in Texas into a state of disaster and claiming over 20 lives. This rainfall lasting about four weeks has filled reservoirs and sparked claims that the Texas drought is now over, and it would seem as though this is true for at least in parts of the state, where according to the Texas Water Development Board, every reservoir in eastern Texas is more than 90% full.

With water now (at least temporarily!) plentiful in parts of Texas, will interest in water harvesting and other conservation efforts diminish? Water harvesting in particular is a long-term strategy and investment, and although the current drought may be ending, will Texas be ready when the next major drought hits? By integrating water harvesting systems into the Texas infrastructure now, the state of Texas could begin to prepare for drought, rather than being forced to drain aquifers and reservoirs when water once again becomes scarce. Water harvesting systems could be put in place to collect and reuse rainwater and stormwater during wetter months, allowing the state to be constantly prepared when the next drought arrives.

Despite the rainy month Texas has experienced, parts of the state are still suffering the consequences of the drought, and could benefit from implementing long-term strategies like water harvesting. As quoted from “The Texas Floods Are So Big They Ended the States Drought” the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies the desert-like Panhandle, “is covered by a thick clay layer that prevents all but the tiniest percentage of water from filtering down.”

So although the Panhandle had one of its rainiest months in recent history, little of that water will actually replenish the aquifer, leaving cities such as Amarillo looking for water. On-site water reuse can go hand in hand with stormwater strategies designed to reduce the impact of heavy rain events that can overwhelm and pollute local waterways – as was seen this past spring in Texas. Once stormwater has been detained, that volume becomes the source for a water reuse system for months ahead. Detention can also be structured to hold a portion for reuse and infiltrate the remainder to help replenish the local aquifer.

In areas of Texas that still remain dry, implementing water harvesting strategies that do not require rainfall would help to conserve what is already a scarce resource in those areas. Greywater (or gray water) harvesting systems, which have been gaining popularity in California during its recent drought, collect the “gently used” water from showers and sinks. Once sanitized, greywater can be reused for flushing toilets, clothes washing, and even irrigation. Greywater provides a steady and predictable supply of water, unlike rainwater, and helps take pressure off the aquifers and reservoirs.

By integrating water harvesting systems into the infrastructure as the current drought is ending, the state of Texas can begin to prepare for the next drought. Water harvesting is a long-term solution, not a quick fix, so although the current drought may be ending, there’s no better time than the present to remember the lessons of drought and prepare for the future.

Wahaso has worked on hundreds of systems throughout the nation and we pride ourselves on unique solutions for water reuse that can optimize water savings at affordable costs. The first step to see if water harvesting makes sense for your project is to go through our free scoping process. To get started, contact us today.

About the Writer: Emily Avellana is a rising senior majoring in marketing at Elmhurst College and a Marketing Intern at Wahaso.