Drought in California

The 2011-2017 drought in California was one of the driest times in the state’s history. In September 2014, nearly 60% of our state was facing exceptional drought, the most severe designation by the U.S. Drought Monitor. The chart below shows just how dry the soil was compared to the historical average: nearly 90 percent of the state was suffering from either severe or extreme drought conditions.

What are the implications of drought? For one, farmers suffer severe economic repercussions and are likely to face increased unemployment.  Acres of farmland will become unusable, and food prices rise across the nation. Wildlife also feels the effects of drought: during the 2011-2017 drought 20-40 percent of fall Chinook salmon eggs laid were destroyed due to low water flows in the Sacramento River. Some rural communities lose access to drinking water as their wells dry up and other communities become dependent on bottled water rations.

Learn about what UCLA is doing to reduce water consumption

What can you do to help?

There are many simple changes you can make, whether you live in residential housing or off-campus, that can contribute to reducing water usage. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

Staff, Faculty and Students

  1. Turn off when lathering up: Turn off the faucet when lathering up with soap instead of letting the water run.
  2. Report a problem: When on campus, please report all leaks and water waste to Facilities at (310) 825-9236 or submit a work request online. You can also download the “UCLA Service” app on Android or Apple to report any issues on campus (and the app allows you to submit photos)

On-Campus Housing Residents

  1. Less time = water saved: Take shorter showers. Reducing your shower length by 4 minutes per day would save around 3,650 gallons of water per year (and conserve energy required to heat the water)!
  2. Turn off water while brushing: Turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth can save about 3 gallons each day! Only turn the water back on to rinse your brush and your mouth.
  3. Tray-free dining: For every tray that goes unused, we save 1/3-1/2 gallon water!
  4. Full load only: Make sure you have a full load when doing your laundry; otherwise you’re wasting water and energy on a half load.
  5. Reuse towels: Don’t wash towels after only one use: they’re still clean.
  6. Report a problem: Please report instances leaks, broken sprinklers, and other excessive water waste by submitting a work order.

Off-Campus Housing Residents

  1. Limit garbage disposal use: Purchase a sink strainer to trap food and other debris.
  2. Turn off the automatic ice maker: Don’t let it run continuously!
  3. Stop pre-rinsing: Most newer dishwashers are strong enough to clean without a pre-rinse
  4. Consider your water footprint: A pound of lettuce and cabbage have a water footprint of 15-24 gallons, while a pound of beef has a footprint of 2,500-5,000 gallons.
  5. Water plants in the morning or evening: There’s less chance of evaporation during this time.
  6. Report a problem: Please report instances leaks, broken sprinklers, and other excessive water waste by submitting a work order.

At Home

  1. Install low-flow devices: Low flow shower heads and faucet aerators are often distributed for free at community events and through your water agencies.
  2. Wash full loads: Only run the dishwasher or washing machine when you have full loads. This will cut back on excessive water, soap, and energy.
  3. Check for leaks: Check your irrigation and plumbing throughout the house for leaks. A leaking toilet, for example, could waste as much as 60 gallons of water per day.
  4. Use a broom: Avoid using the hose to clean sidewalks, driveways, and patios.
  5. Install a spray nozzle: When out washing the car install a spray nozzle to keep water from constantly running.
  6. Install drip irrigation: Drip irrigation is more efficient than sprinklers because it helps soaks the roots.
  7. Run sprinklers at night/early morning: Set the sprinklers to come on in the early morning during the winter and late at night in the summer to reduce evaporation from the sun or wind.
  8. Pull out turf grass: Many water districts offer rebates to remove turf grass. Replace it with drought-tolerant landscaping for extra savings!
Lake San Antonio 2013-2014
Lake San Antonio, CA. These side-by-side photos taken from the same exact spot show the severe impacts of the drought in Monterey County within the same year.

For more tips on saving water at home, visit the EPA’s Conserving Water


  1. California Department of Public Health. (2014). California Department of Public Health to Assist Communities with Most Vulnerable Drinking Water Systems Due to Drought. http://www.cdph.ca.gov/Pages/NR14-012.aspx
  2. Calfornia Department of Water Resources. (2014). DWR Drops State Water Project Allocation to Zero, Seeks to Preserve Remaining Supplies. http://www.water.ca.gov/news/newsreleases/2014/013114pressrelease.pdf
  3. Environment & Energy Publishing. (2014). Record-setting drought threatens salmon survival. http://www.eenews.net/greenwire/stories/1059992570
  4. UCLA Sustainability Committee Water Task Force (2013). UCLA Water Action Plan. http://www.sustain.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Water-Action-Plan-Final1.pdf
  5. U.S. Drought Monitor. (2014). http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?CA

Top Photo Lake Oroville. Licensed through Creative Commons.