Where Does All the Water Go?

By Julia Kemp

Throughout my Californian childhood, a recurring phrase rang through my ears every time I spilled a drop of water or forgot to turn off a faucet: “don’t waste water, we’re in a drought.” So, when the winter of 2023 came around, and California experienced record-breaking rainfall, I thought that all of our problems would be solved. More water means less drought, right? Wrong.

During the recent “atmospheric rivers,” more than 30 trillion gallons of water fell into California’s lap. Power blew out, roads flooded, and water flowed. However, a majority of the water from the storm was not collected, and most will not be saved as usable fresh water. The water literally slipped through our fingers—and there is a glaringly obvious reason for this: climate change is beginning to have real, personal consequences. 

California has relied on snow banks and reservoirs in the mountains to collect water, but not all rainwater makes it to collection. While the bit of water that’s collected rests in these snow banks and reservoirs, the rest flows straight into the salty ocean. Now, this water loss is common and not a complete devastation. Sure, it could be better through more efficient infrastructure and better collection techniques, but the water we collected in this process usually sufficed. However, with increasingly heavier rainfall in the winter and increasingly hotter temperatures in the summer, water began to dump down and evaporate up before it could be saved. Record-breaking rainfall to record-breaking heat spells—more drastic changes in weather from winter to summer will make gathering and maintaining water supply increasingly difficult.