Chill out: It’s not that much water

A familiar sight these days. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/User slgckgc

Some of my friends are grousing about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, given California’s extreme drought.

Look, I’m the biggest water cop on my block. I stalk the streets at night, taking photos of errant sprinklers and gushing gutters, posting them on Twitter. (Kind of creepy, I realize.)

But the Ice Bucket Challenge, in the grand scheme of things, is a drop in the proverbial bucket. Actually, about two drops, by my math.

No one knows exactly how much water has been used in the challenge. Based on an estimated 1.2 million videos posted to Facebook as of last week, various news agencies have come up with anywhere from 5 million gallons to 6 million gallons, depending on the size of the bucket used.

Let’s be conservative and assume 6 million gallons.

First of all, not all of those bucket challenges are taking place in drought-stricken California. Assuming an even distribution across the country — and ignoring any international participation, for the moment — we come up with a total use of 726,114 gallons in the Golden State.

That might sound like a lot, but it’s only 2.2 acre feet of water.

That’s enough to supply two average families with water for about a year, or enough to flood 2 acres of agricultural land with a foot of water.

For comparison, in a decent year California gets about 70 million acre-feet of runoff.

The state would normally have about 15 million acre-feet of water in storage right now. This year we’ve only got 7,659,526 acre-feet, which is atrociously bad.

Still, using the 2.2 acre-foot estimate, the bucket challenge accounts for only 0.000029 percent of our total current storage. That’s equivalent to removing 2 drops of water from our 5-gallon bucket.

Granted, many more ALS challenges might have occurred in the past few days, and many more will doubtless occur in the coming days and weeks. Even if the total number of challenges doubles or triples or quadruples, however, the total amount of water used will remain infinitesimally small compared to the state’s supply.

That having been said, it’s certainly understandable that folks might feel a little guilty about participating. It does seem contrary to the mantra of save, save, save.

So here are some ideas:

• Stand in a kiddie pool when you dunk yourself. You can then use the collected water on houseplants or to give your trees a much-needed midsummer drink.

• Stand on your lawn. That’s certainly better than pavement.

• Make up for the extra water use by skipping your daily shower, if your family and coworkers will stand for that. Or turn off your sprinklers one additional day (hopefully you’ve already scaled back watering consierably).

• Use a small cup of ice instead of water, sans San Joaquin County Supervisor Ken Vogel.

Use dirt instead.

• Forget the gimmicky bucket thing and just donate to ALS or any other cause that you find worthy. After all, it’s not really about the water… right?

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  • Blog Author

    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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