Kit Steinkellner
June 23, 2014 6:50 am

For those who don’t know, California is facing one of the worst droughts on record. On the freeway, that sign that usually alerts people to heavy traffic ahead now alerts people to the fact that we’re in the middle of a water-related crisis. When I visit my parents, they make me drink bottled water, won’t let me do my laundry unless the load is as heavy as humanly possible, and tell me I can’t flush the toilet unless I “did something other than pee.”

Up until now, that was basically my relationship with this drought. But there’s more to this problem than I even realized. Here are some shocking things I’ve learned about California’s drought:

How serious is this? It’s extremely serious. Back in January, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency due to extreme water shortages. This past week things got even worse, with 33 percent of the state facing what’s being called “exceptional” drought conditions—that’s up 25 percent from the week before. The reduction of water has hit homes, yes, but it’s taken the biggest toll on the state’s agricultural sector, potentially leaving a staggering amount of farmworkers (an estimated 14,500) without work.

What are we doing about it? The largest desalinization plant in the Western Hemisphere is currently under construction in San Diego County. It’ll be up and running in 2016 and will be able to transform that Pacific Ocean, which California is so famous for, into drinkable water. Hooray! Well, actually, let’s back pocket that hooray for now.

We’re spending how much on this problem?! The plant is going to cost one billion dollars (sound of a car screeching to a stop) and is only going to offset 7% of the country’s daily water usage (sound of another car rear-ending that first car that just screeched to a stop). That’s a lot of money for not a lot of real world results.

Is there a temporary solution? So even though this big desalinization plant is being built in SoCal and plans for smaller plants are in the works all over California, the wait time might prove too long and the results too small. People are hoping that water conservation will tide us over ’til the plants arrive, but this is increasingly feeling like pipe-dream thinking.

Where will our water come from in the meantime? So this year California has invested one billion dollars on water recycling efforts . And that recycled water comes from (drumroll please) the sewer! Yes, that means brushing your teeth with toilet water. Yes, that means drinking your own pee. Well, purified toilet water, recycled pee. So, less gross. But still gross.

Are you kidding me? The thing is, the “gross factor” is purely psychological. This water would be safe and purified. And we need safe and purified water because right now we basically have, you know, no water. The drought isn’t going away anytime soon. So unless you want to get the hell out of Dodge, if you’re staying around CA, you might have to get comfortable with the idea of recycled water. There’s been a lot of public outrage in the past about drinking recycled water, but people have been increasingly cool about it, because our options have become increasingly limited. Right now, we just need water and we need it, like, yesterday.

What should we do to help out? If all of this information makes you feel a little helpless, fear not. There’s plenty you can do to help conserve water. Some simple ideas that don’t make a huge dent in your day: Soak dirty dishes instead of straight up rinsing them under water, collect water used to wash fruits to water plants, use smaller pans to cook with. Already, collective efforts are making a difference. A report out last week found that water use declined by 5 percent, thanks to raised awareness statewide. For more tips on how to conserve precious, precious water in your home, check out the website, Save Our Water.

Featured image via Shutterstock