Drought on Santa Catalina Island

[This article was originally written in March of 2014 and has been updated to reflect conditions as of November 2016}
The truth be told, though surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, Santa Catalina Island is in a permanent state of drought. It is a desert island and over the millennia the native plants and animals have adapted to the low fresh water state of affairs. The adaptation of the human animal to the island climate is still in process.

Highest Water Rates in California

Southern California Edison has a contract with the Island Company to provide both water and power. Three water systems have been created to produce adequate supplies of the precious liquid. In the hills above Avalon is the Thompson Reservoir that was designed to capture rainfall runoff. This reservoir is one of a series located throughout the island. Catalina residents get weekly reservoir level reports. Secondly, a system of deep wells has been drilled to tap into the fresh water aquifer. Additional wells have been drilled since rationing began in August 2014. Thirdly, Edison operates a desalination plant that contributes about 10% of the water supply. Though the current supplies are adequate, none of this comes cheap. Catalina Island residents pay the highest rates of any city in California. For low water users the rate is 5 times the rate of other low water users in the state. The high water usage rate is almost 18 times higher than the highest in the state according to a 2012 study. Campus by the Sea’s ministry to visiting guest groups is considered a high water usage customer.

As of early September, 2016, the 5000 permanent island residents, including Campus by the Sea, are currently under a stage three water rationing program. Residents and guests are permitted to only use 50% of the water they normally would, before any rationing was implemented. Average usage in 2013 is used as a base line. We are not to wash our cars or water our lawns. CBS was happy to abide by that restriction since we own neither cars nor lawns. As the drought situation worsened, however, camp has been restricted to a tighter per person limit. Though we have implemented effective water saving strategies, under current restrictions, camp is not permitted, on average, to consume more than 2500 gallons per day. When you consider that camp can host as many as 240 guests at one time, it is easy to see that our water supply concerns are paramount. Conserving water is not difficult for the permanent residents, however; it is for the 750,000 guest that visit the island each year. Most are on holiday and restricting oneself does not fit the vacation ethos.

Water Conservation at CBS

ConservationIn the early days, Campus by the Sea got its fresh water supply from a spring in Gallagher’s Canyon. Cisterns were built to store water when supplies dwindled in late summer. Strict conservation was practiced that included salt water showers, pit toilets, and a cup of water to brush your teeth once a day. In the mid 1980’s when CBS expanded its capacity and went to a year round operation, we contracted with Southern California Edison and connected to the island supply system. The conservation disciplines of the early years, though relaxed a bit, continue to guide us. Our team has installed waterless urinals, water frugal dish washing machines, and a fresh water rinse on the beach for those who use our Pacific Ocean bath tub. And we are happy to report that our guests have eagerly embraced the short-shower rule. We hope the water supply will be adequate for the coming summer.

Please Pray

Southern California Edison has informed us that we will be fined a stiff penalty if we exceed our monthly allotment. In addition, if there is no rain and water supplies continue to decrease, we will be required to cut usage by 75% when the island reservoir dwindles to below 5% of it’s overall capacity. Please pray that our guests and camp staff will cheerfully embrace these new restrictions and respond accordingly. Secondly, pray that the Lord of the heaven and earth will send rain this year to quench the thirsty ground for all who live in the drought stricken West.