Why water conservation matters, even when it’s raining

Picture this familiar scenario: you’re snug on your couch, nursing a cup of tea as your thoughts drift from the muted percussions of raindrops smattering the window beside you. Or maybe you’re gripping an umbrella in one hand and a teetering armful of work to-dos in the other, dodging parking lot puddles on the rainy trek to your car.

Wherever we find ourselves when a rain shower hits, I’m willing to wager that water conservation is one of the last things on our minds in those moments and the weeks that follow. It’s easy to think about conserving water when our streams are visibly parched and the word “drought” meets us at every turn – but what about when it’s raining?

It’s not as easy to remember to conserve in times of plenty, but it’s actually just as important as it is to conserve during dry times. Here’s why:

It may be raining on you, but that doesn’t always mean that your community’s water supply is increasing.

Rain falling in a region or city doesn’t mean that water will actually be available for those people to use. Only about 15 percent of the water that falls onto highly developed areas re-enters the ground, which is what needs to happen for the water to be absorbed into the aquifers and springs that feed into our rivers, supplying our communities with water. In comparison, a full half of the rainwater that falls on natural landscapes gets absorbed into the ground. From there, this water slowly makes its way into aquifers, rivers, bays and our communities.

It is difficult for rain to be absorbed into the ground in highly developed areas like cities without natural drainage.
It is difficult for rain to be absorbed into the ground in highly developed areas like cities without natural drainage. / Source: EPA

This means that in cities with few natural greenspaces and lots of development, the vast majority of the water evaporates or turns into runoff, and very little water is absorbed into the ground. If we get lazy with our water conservation efforts and pump out more groundwater than is actually being absorbed into our aquifers, we could even cause our land to sink in on itself in some areas of the state.

Rain doesn’t necessarily mean that a drought is over.

While some rain showers might help plants perk up and distract us from conserving water, they’re more like a band aid than a cure – a drought’s impacts generally can’t be washed away with a small dose or two of rainwater. Even torrential rains or thunderstorms that dump a lot of water in a short amount of time don’t necessarily relieve an area of its drought hardships.

Generally, a region needs some consistent rainfall to return to normal climatic conditions. Even then, wildlife and the waters they live in could need a significant amount of time to recover from a drought. They can’t fully recover if we overuse the newly available water that wildlife also depend on to survive.

If anything, a rainy forecast means it’s a great time to conserve. You can turn off or reduce the run time on your lawn irrigation system to save water outside, while the rain takes care of the rest.

Conserving water now protects us from more devastation in the next drought.

We can’t kid ourselves – there will be another drought. One way to prepare for the inevitable is to conserve water all the time, even when it’s raining. It’s important for us to remember that the less water we use today, the more water we’ll have to help get us through the dry times.

Our rivers, springs, bays and wildlife need us to share.

The truth is, we aren’t the only ones who depend on fresh water. There’s a whole world of rivers, springs, bays, and wildlife who can’t survive without enough fresh water, but who can’t speak up for themselves. Our water use stretches our springs and rivers thin even in times of plenty, which means we can’t use more water just because we aren’t currently in a dry spell.

Turtles and other water-loving wildlife need us to conserve water year round.
Turtles and other water-loving wildlife need us to conserve water all year.

To keep our waters and water-loving critters happy and healthy, we need to share fresh water by always using it wisely in our homes and communities.

Water conservation is a way of life.

Water conservation isn’t a temporary patch for times of drought. Fresh water is a precious – and limited – treasure that we need to survive. The ways in which we allow our decision-makers to manage our water, and the ways in which we use water in our own lives, should reflect its immeasurable value.

We can play a role in protecting our shared waters by using our water wisely all the time, not just during dry months. Conserving water can be easy, and if we make living with less a conscious part of our daily lives, it will become second nature before we know it. That’s when we can really make a long-term impact – when conserving water becomes so normal and ingrained in our lives and communities that it’s weird not to do so.

By conserving water as a way of life, we’re making a better future possible. For our rivers, our wildlife, our economy, our kids, and for all the adventures to come.


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