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By National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For thirsty California, water falling from the sky might as well be free money. Are you ready to grab a bucket and claim your share?

California is in a historic drought and now also preparing for a monster El Niño – a remarkably ironic climate situation.

The truth is that El Niño will not knock California out of its drought, but there are ways that businesses and homeowners can take advantage of the rainfall while it lasts.

What is El Niño?

Unusually warm waters in the Pacific Ocean create massive climate patterns that disturb entire ecosystems. Some parts of the globe suffer extreme drought while others endure abnormally heavy rainfall.

El Niño pushes the jet stream that usually provides wet winters in the jungles of southern Mexico north, consequently drenching California and the southern states.

What does El Niño mean for California?

While nothing is certain, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a 60 percent chance of Southern California experiencing “wetter-than-normal conditions” from December 2015 – February 2016.

California Snow Pack 2010 vs 2015. Click Here to Enlarge. By NASA/Modis [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In December, El Nino was already being felt in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest with above average rainfall and snow accumulations. This is much needed good news as 2015’s snowpack fell to its lowest level in recorded history.  More than 75 percent of California’s reservoirs are located north of Fresno and the Sierra Nevada snowpack provides a large portion of California’s water supply.

Snowpacks are an important water resource that feed streams and rivers as they melt and help replenish waters throughout California. Unfortunately, one wetter than normal year will not build up the functional snowpack needed for drought relief.

While things will hopefully continue to go well in the north, Southern California needs to do its part, even though there are fewer places to capture and store rain water on a large-scale. This means taking advantage of the rain that does come to Southern California in whatever amount.

How to capitalize on El Niño

This is the year for individuals and businesses to learn how to make the most of a rainy season. There are a number of stormwater capture and groundwater replenishment methods you can take advantage of.

Rainbarrels” by Gemma Grace is licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons

Rain barrels collect rainwater as it falls into huge bins placed on the perimeter of your home, usually by downspouts. A 55-gallon barrel can irrigate a lawn or garden for up to two weeks – at no cost to the homeowner. Many water districts and environmental organizations throughout California are offering hefty discounts on rain barrels to encourage individuals to prepare for heavy rainfall before it arrives.

Simple changes to your yard’s landscape can create a natural pond that collects rainwater and lets it percolate into the ground. Learn about how your yard drains and place a thick layer of mulch in the area where water collects. Like a rain barrel, this is another way to collect naturally falling water to use for landscaping purposes.

Bioretention landscapes store and filter stormwater runoff and are considered best practices for public areas and businesses. You can be looking at a bioretention area and not even know it – they look just like drought-conscious landscape designs. The process removes contaminants and sedimentation from stormwater that businesses can easily capture in parking lots and rooftops.

Taking advantage of these water-capture methods during El Niño will help your personal water supply, but remember that our state’s drought battles are far from over.

Mandatory water cutbacks remain in effect, conservation measures like drought tolerant landscaping — SmartScapes — are more important than ever and alternative water sources like groundwater replenishment provide some relief. Together, we can quench California’s drought and ensure a sustainable future.