Tag Archives: Drought

Catalina Island’s Fresh Water

Water is an essential part of life for almost every single animal on planet earth. Without water, life on this planet may not have ever been possible. Human beings are no exception. Humans rely on water as a biological necessity as well as a tool for advancing civilizations. We have used water for many purposes for centuries for transportation as well as a source of energy used to power our earliest factories thanks to water wheels in streams and rivers. Eventually humans developed indoor plumbing for more sanitary restrooms and kitchen sinks doing away with outhouses and outdoor wells. Technological revolutions have allowed humans to populate areas where finding access to fresh water was historically difficult if not impossible. As our population increases our water consumption increases as well, but our supplies are no longer able to meet the demand in many parts of the world. Catalina Island is a prime example of this problem and how it is being managed.

Humans have inhabited Catalina Island for many centuries and possibly millennia. Though Catalina spends most of the year without rainfall, the native Tongva people always had access to fresh water thanks to small natural ponds around the island that could hold water year round such as Haypress Pond and Echo Lake.

Fresh Water 1

After the Tongva people were removed from the island during the 1800s eras of ranching, farming, and even mining came to the island. Ownership of Catalina changed hands several times over the years but eventually settled in the control of William Wrigley Jr. who helped stabilize the small community of Avalon and make it a tourist destination. Avalon would continue to prosper and William Wrigley Jr. helped establish many other camps and facilities around the island like the boarding school at Toyon Bay. The year round population of Catalina Island has now reached nearly 4,000 people and receives around 700,000 annual visitors. This amount of people far exceeds the historic water supply of the island. During the winter months the average water usage in Avalon is around 200,000 gallons per day and nearly 800,000 gallons per day in during the busiest summer days. To meet demand for water on Catalina Island, fresh water wells were established around the island over the years and the Middle Ranch Reservoir was constructed to hold the water for treatment and distribution.

Fresh Water 2

Photo Credit: Southern California Edison

For most of the 1900’s these ground water reserves were plenty to supply all of the residents of the island. In 1991 a desalination plant was constructed to help supplement the fresh water supply with the ability to add nearly 240,000 gallons of fresh water per day if needed.

Fresh Water 4

Photo Credit: Southern California Edison

The need for fresh water and growing population finally came to a head on in August of 2014 when Catalina was placed under stage 2 water rationing. The historic California drought had brought the middle ranch reservoir down to nearly 1/4th of its maximum capacity and all of the other wells on the island were just as strained. Residents and businesses of the island were forced to reduce their water usage by 25% or face penalties. At the beginning of 2016 a second desalination plant was installed to help reduce the strain on the reservoir by adding an additional 150,000 gallons per day, but it still was not enough. In September of 2016 Catalina was placed under stage 3 drought conditions. Under stage three residents were forced to reduce their water usage by 50%. As things were looking their worst and the reservoir sitting at nearly 1/10th of its maximum capacity, Catalina was in desperate need of rain. Luckily the southern California area had a record year for rain including a record-breaking 24-hour rainfall period and the reservoir and wells were filled to pre drought levels. Although the water stocks were replenished water conservation remains a top concern for island residents as Catalina still remains in stage 1 drought water rationing for the foreseeable future.

Toyon Tree – Surviving the Drought

screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-11-48-48-amWith so little water in Southern California right now, especially on Catalina Island, plants that are adapted to droughts are definitely surviving the dry heat better than others. Toyon tree (Heteromeles arbutifoloia) is a shrub-like tree that is native to Catalina Island, and tolerant of extreme drought conditions. It is found along the California coast of the mainland as well, and is also commonly called Christmas berry or California holly. This tree is actually part of the rose family and typically grows 8-15 feet tall depending on the amount of sunlight that it is exposed to. The tree has small, toothed leaves that tend to stiffly point upward as they are very thick to tolerate little water.

Throughout the summertime Toyon tree produces white flowers that eventually turn into small red berries in the late fall and winter, similar looking to holly, hence the nickname. Because Toyon tree is so plentiful in chapparal areas, the famous “Hollywood” region was named for the presence of this plant, as it was mistaken for a different red-berried plant, Holly. In the 1920s, Toyon tree was even collected so much in the Los Angeles area during Christmas time that a law was passed to forbid its collection on public lands. More recently, it was adopted as the official native plant for the city of Los Angeles in 2012.

Toyon tree was named by the Oholone tribe and was used by many California tribes including the Tongva for food and medicine. It is the only plant native to California that still goes by its Native American name. Often it was dried, used to make a tea for stomachaches, or made into a jelly. For other wildlife, it is an important plant for bees and butterflies, and provides fruit for many bird species, coyotes, and bears. The berries start off a bright green color and contain toxins, which keep predators away until they are mature. Once they turn a deep red, the toxins lessen, and the animals are attracted to them, consume them, and help to spread the seeds. Another important characteristic of the plant is their deep, net-like root system, which helps to prevent erosion for dry, hilly landscapes. All in all, it is a beautiful plant that flourishes throughout Catalina, think of Toyon Bay!

Written By: Jaclyn Lucas

Saving Water 101

The drought in California isn’t new, but it definitely is not getting any better. Here, on Catalina Island, we feel the effects of the dry weather in Southern California with full force. The lack of rain is magnified on the island, as our reservoir gets smaller and smaller, and substantial rain is not in the forecast. At CIMI, we have been doing our fair share to cut down on the amount of fresh water we use, from installing low-flow faucets, toilets and shower heads, to reducing the amount of water used in our kitchen. Even on the dive deck, we are filling our foot rinse bins with saltwater and promote the CIMI challenge to opt out from showering while you’re at camp! Here’s a few ways you can help reduce your freshwater usage, on the island or off—

  1. Turn off the water when you’re not actually using it! This may sound silly but people forget that while brushing their teeth, washing their hands, or taking a shower, you don’t always need the water on. Turn the water off while you’re shampooing or while your toothbrush is scrubbing away.
  1. Install low-flow faucets and shower heads. Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 9.45.59 PMPeople don’t realize how much water they use when showering. In one minute alone, a shower can use 5-10 gallons of water! Installing low-flow shower heads will reduce that number to 2.5 gallons or less per minute. In your sinks, low-flow faucets are a great replacement as well. This will help to preserve our fresh water and save money on your water bill.
  1. Reduce your energy consumption! Reducing the amount of energy you use also reduces water usage. Energy production accounts for the second highest use of freshwater, after agriculture. Anything from turning off the lights to driving less will help with our water crisis.
  1. Wash full loads of clothes and dishes. Make sure that when you run the dishwasher or washing machine, it is full. Doing laundry is a huge contributor to water use in homes. Save energy and save water! Small and large loads of laundry use about the same amount of energy. Additionally, 90% of the energy that washers use is for heating water, so wash your laundry on cold.
  1. Recycle your water! Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 9.46.09 PMWhile larger scale changes can be made, like using grey water to flush your toilets, any recycling of water is helpful. After you make pasta or boil veggies, use the remaining water for your plants. Outside, create a simple rainwater catchment system or divert your gutters to water your yard. Remember, drought resistant plants are a great substitute for traditional lawns!

Written By: Jaclyn Lucas

Something Wicked This Way Comes

El nino map1997-1998: the dawn of Girlpower, Harry’s first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and the epic story between love, an iceberg and a ship. Oh, and yeah…..El Niño.

Documented as the strongest El Niño to ever occur within the past 50 years, the 1997-1998 ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation) event broke records for heightened sea surface temperatures, rainfall, and drought conditions globally. With ENSO occurring regularly every 4-5 years there’s no lack of expectation of what’s to naturally happen. It is, although, varied by intensity. 2015 marks the beginning of another El Niño event, and this year is anticipated to steal the cake. Recent trends give evidence to the possibility that this year could reach and even surpass 1997-1998 records with how high sea surface temperatures of the water have been.

Warm waterThis natural, cyclical phenomenon transpires when easterly trade winds along the equator weaken, shifting atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns. Normally, cold-nutrient rich water is upwelled along the eastern Pacific coast near Peru due to strong trades pushing west. This keeps the areas around the eastern portion of the equator relatively cool and dry during portions of the year, and highly productive given the movement of bottom-dwelling nutrients to the surface. Along the western side, the warm water being pushed by the strong winds eventually warms the overlying air over Indonesia and other portions of Southeast Asia. The air then gets lifted into the atmosphere and produces variable stormy activity that keeps this area relatively warm and wet during the year.

What commences an El Niño event is the weakening of the easterly trade winds. The normal cold-water upwelling occurring along the eastern Pacific coast that we typically see comes to a halt, allowing warm water to pool up. Atmospheric weather patterns shift more eastward, producing more wet, stormy conditions along the eastern coastlines. As a result, we find more warm, wet, and non-productive conditions along the east side and more warm and dry conditions over towards the west.

SnakeThe intensity of ENSO events varies each year based upon the overlay of building oceanic and atmospheric conditions throughout the designated year. Only time will tell on how strong this year’s El Niño will be. What is anticipated to happen around California and Catalina Island, although, is higher than normal precipitation in the form of rain and even snow up in higher elevated areas, increased susceptibility of weather-induced natur al disaster events, including landslides and mudslides, and major ecological shifts within our local terrestrial and marine environments. We’ve already seen a number of non-native marine critters visit, including the recently sighted venomous Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake…..watch out!

The important thing to understand is that El Niño is a natural reoccurring phenomenon. It’s not alien that we are going to experience an intense shift in climate and weather patterns this winter seasons or quite possibly even see Godzilla emerging from the sea. What is curious, although, is the question of how intense that shift will be and how our ever changing world has contributed to that intensity.

Written by John Cornett

Blog Photo Credits

-“El Nino Pacific”

-“Global Climate Conditions”

-“Yellow Bellied Sea Snake”

Video Photo Credits


-“Yellow Bellied Sea Snake”


Snow Caps


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