Industry Insight: Our Dry Future

Nov. 5, 2015

About the author: Sara Espinoza is managing director, research and best practices, for the National Environmental Education Foundation. Espinoza can be reached at [email protected] or 202.261.6490. Kate Cline is managing editor of WQP. Cline can be reached at [email protected] or 847.391.1007.

When it comes to drought in the U.S., the future looks grim—scientists theorize that drought will continue to plague the U.S. in the future, leading the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) to predict that drought will become the “new normal” in this country in its new online education course, Dealing With Drought. WQP Managing Editor Kate Cline spoke with NEEF’s Sara Espinoza about the course and what Americans can expect in a drought-stricken future.

Kate Cline: What topics does Dealing With Drought cover?

Sara Espinoza: Dealing With Drought provides an overview of drought and its impacts on society and the environment in the U.S., while also providing practical tips and tools to help students save water. The course is designed for anyone interested in learning more about the topic, regardless of [his or her] scientific background. 

The course uses the current California drought as a case study throughout and draws on expertise and interviews from trusted sources, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WaterSense program, the National Drought Mitigation Center, NASA, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and others. 

Cline: What steps does the course recommend to reduce water use?

Espinoza: The course suggests ways that individuals and families can save water both by changing behavior and by investing in more water-efficient homes and landscapes. 

Simple changes to everyday routines, such as turning the water off while shaving or brushing your teeth, trimming a minute or two off your shower time, and running the dishwasher and washing machine with full loads, can add up to measurable savings for the average family. When we all take these actions together, they add up to even bigger savings. 

There also are longer-term investments individuals and families can make to create more water-efficient homes and landscapes. For example, products and fixtures that have EPA’s WaterSense label are 20% more efficient than average products and perform as well [as] or better than their conventional counterparts. 

Cline: In your experience, what are some of the public’s misconceptions about drought in the U.S.?

Espinoza: One of the tricky things about a drought is that it does not have a clear beginning or end. Many experts refer to [it] as a “creeping” natural hazard—the onset of drought can be slow; it can last for weeks, months or years; and we may not feel the impacts right away. 

Drought also is slow to end and recovery can take years. A heavy rainstorm in a drought-stricken area does not mean the drought is over. Experts expect that it will take several years of above-normal rain and snowfall in California to overcome the current drought, underscoring the importance of ongoing water conservation at the individual and community levels. 

Cline: What will the new normal entail in the U.S. as drought persists?

Espinoza: Scientists expect a warming climate to lead to more intense and more frequent droughts in the U.S., both short and long term. Short-term droughts are expected to intensify in most regions of the U.S., outside of a few areas where increases in summer precipitation will compensate for moisture loss. Long-term or multi-season droughts also are expected to intensify in the U.S., particularly in parts of the Southeast, the Southwest, and Hawaii and other Pacific islands. For the Southwest in particular, scientists predict that drought will become more frequent, intense and longer lasting than it has been historically. 

Cline: How do you predict drought will affect our society in the coming years?

Espinoza: Droughts are among the most expensive natural disasters, harming agriculture, the economy and human health, and creating the perfect conditions for wildfires. Scientists expect drought impacts to persist and worsen under the intensified conditions projected with climate change. 

Cline: What advice do you recommend water treatment dealers give their customers regarding water conservation?

Espinoza: Individual actions add up. Even small tweaks to our daily routines can save water (and money)—and when we all make these changes together, we can have tremendous impact. Changing the way we think about and use this valuable resource and creating water-smart homes and yards now will help us prepare for and adapt to life in a drier climate.

Download: Here

About the Author

Kate Cline

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