The L.A. Times offers a nice summary of the state's current situation, in which conservation is really the main immediate solution.
In a warming world, the Sierra snowpack is predicted to gradually shrink as a key water reservoir. With it melting earlier in the spring, more of the water that it releases into reservoirs will be lost to evaporation. This impact will be further exacerbated by poorly planned logging operations that aren't designed to maximize shading of logged sites (e.g., by planning cuts in east-west facing strips that reduce exposure to solar radiation).
For homeowners and municipalities, our water supplies are only going to become more uncertain, and we're best off preparing now.
That SHOULD mean that something serious is going to have to be done about all the golf courses, green grass lawns, and swimming pools in hot, deserty southern California.
What do we do?
- We have an energy efficient dishwasher, which we run only when full and only late at night -- usually about once every 5 days (fortunately, ours has a setting that allows us to set it to go on in 3 or 6 hours, so it goes on at 2AM and we are greeted to fresh dishes in the morning)
- We take relatively short showers
- We rent our home, and have to deal with a small lawn in our front yard. So we set the timer to go on for 15 minutes per week at 2AM, when evaporation is lowest.
- Being a rental, we also can't install rain barrels. However, we have set up a tube from one of our gutters to direct rainwater down a hill into an extra plastic garbage bin can we have. We use this water all winter to water our house and garden plants.
- Our fairly large back yard is not landscaped, and while we have a garden, it is composed of four 4x4-foot raised beds that we plant with a square foot grid, as well as barrel planters for our cooking herbs (about 12 different kinds). These are highly space-efficient, and with no plant more than two feet from the edge, they are easy to water directly on to the base of each stem. Of course, I usually water early in the morning (for food plants, watering at night can lead to mold issues). A future goal is to add drip irrigation, but with square foot beds, it isn't entirely necessary.
I find that conservation is actually not only money saving, but is FUN!