Catalina's debilitating water shortage is a bad omen for California

Catalina Island drought

CATALINA, Calif. The Four Preps put Catalina on the map when they crooned: “Water all around it, everywhere. Tropical seas and the salty air.”

Well, there’s still plenty of water around it, but on the island, there’s barely a drop -- a bad omen for the California mainland.

In this island tourist haven 22 miles off the coast of Southern California, fresh water is becoming so scarce, that at fine dining restaurants, servers quietly collect leftover bottled-water to mop the floor.

And islanders like Mary Boyd now reuse their water. In her shower, a bucket catches water while it’s warming up. 

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“I’m like a two-minute shower,” Boyd says. “My daughter, on the other hand, is about a 10-minute shower. ... That’s a long shower. Are you kidding?” 

It’s an effort to meet some of the most stringent water restrictions in the country. 

“All customers have to conserve 50 percent of the water they were using pre-rationing,” says Ron Hite, who manages Catalina’s water district, where the island’s main reservoir is critically low. Even though a second de-salination plant is now up and running, it’s still not enough.

So contractors use bottled water to mix concrete, landscapers ship in water to irrigate what’s not already astro-turf, and some hotels ship out their laundry to the mainland.

Yolanda Montano says the water bill at her laundromat has doubled. “My last bill that came in was $4,700,” Montano says.

She now faces fines and penalties for going over her water allotment, as more islanders use her washers to avoid water violations at home.

“Which to me is just a water shuffle,” she says. 

What happens if she closes her doors? “I personally believe that it would pose a health risk to our community. A lot of residents don’t have washer and dryers,” she says.

The only solution is “rain - significant amounts of rain,” says Hite. 

Nearly 4,000 people living here could be facing a 75 percent water cut by next summer.