Jul 30, 2015

Breaking the Dry Spell

Elisabeth Lisican

The dire drought conditions have led some Californians to turn to unorthodox methods in their desperate attempts to seek alternate sources of water.

Some simply are praying for rain. Others are turning to magic in hopes of acquiring more water for their livelihoods.

Dowsers—or “water witches,” as they’ve been known for centuries—are being enlisted now more than ever by farmers to help to locate underground sources of water, according to a recent article from the Huffington Post. They use simple tools like sticks or rods and rely on “natural energy” or intuition to find groundwater sources.

If this sounds like a lot of hocus-pocus to you, you’re not alone. State and federal water scientists disapprove of dowsing, and the U.S. Geological Survey commented that dowsers often are successful in areas that already are known for an abundance of groundwater, and that the practice is not substantiated by science.

Still, the witchcraft going on right now in California’s most drought-stricken regions is just another example of the state grasping at straws when it comes to its water future. When visiting California during the American Water Works Assn.’s Annual Conference and Exposition, held in Anaheim in June, I heard the question, “Who will save our water situation?” being posed over and over again by water professionals and everyday citizens alike.

As Californians become enamored with finding more water, they also are apparently letting go of some long-held notions. According to a recent Reuters TV report, the “yuck factor” surrounding direct potable reuse has been one of the biggest barriers that water managers, politicians and regulators have had to overcome. 

Evidence shows that progress is being made. A recent Bay Area Council poll suggested that residents are becoming more likely to embrace “toilet-to-tap” options, according to an article in the Oroville Mercury Register. Fifty-eight percent of those polled said they favored adding “appropriately treated recycled water to the drinking water supply,” and 88% said they supported “the expanded use of recycled sewage water”—typically used at golf courses, carwashes and other outdoor applications. 

The article quoted a Wichita Falls, Texas, city manager, who said getting over that yuck factor helped his city in the midst of its most extreme drought. 

One thing is certain: Whether they desire incantations or technological innovations, Californians are more open-minded now than ever before, and the future is ripe with opportunity for the industry to conjure up solutions to this water crisis.

About the author

Elisabeth Lisican is managing editor of Water & Wastes Digest. Lisican can be reached at [email protected] or 847.391.1012.

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