California has been experiencing a severe drought this past year and matters have worsened this winter. The contrast is striking: 2013 was the driest year on record for Los Angeles. The recent rain storms have brought relief – they are delivering the highest level of rainfall for the region in the past two years. Yet, the rain brings its own set of problems: the powerful storm has brought on flood watches, coastal flooding, 12-foot high waves along the coast, and winds gusting up to 65 mph, according to the National Weather Service. In addition, there are tornado warnings, and in foothill communities, residents are experiencing mudflows and unstable hillsides. The rainfall has brought as much as three inches of rain along the coast and 10 or so inches in the California mountains.
While the storms have served to allay fears of residents and businesses alike, there still remains the concern over the long-term vulnerability of California’s water supply. According to David Hayes, a former official with the U.S. Interior Department, the state has been relying on more water than it has access to in the long run, and its options are becoming increasingly limited. On February 1, Hayes said that 17 rural communities that comprise 40,000 people are perilously close to expending their water supplies within 60 to 120 days.
The problem for Californians is two-pronged: First, droughts are common and long-lasting; the current one is technically in its third year, and state residents are accustomed to droughts that can last for at least a year. (In the past, they lasted decades.) Second, there is no long-term solution in place to increase the efficiency of the water that is available. For example, in home and business use, inefficient toilets, washing machines, and dishwashers are not being replaced by more economical ones on the market.
Before the current rain storms began to bring relief, the drought had left a dusty residue and a multitude of problems: areas of lingering smog that settled over the city, livestock starving in parched fields, dying crops that will drive up food costs nationwide, and an outlaw on camping and fishing for much of California, to safeguard against fires and to protect endangered fish, such as salmon.
Across the U.S. – and California is no different – water is wasted in homes, in industry, and on farms. There is much room for improvement in conserving our water resources – in watering lawns, taking showers, and washing cars. During California’s drought, there is rationing and banning, but what of a long-term solution? Moreover, approximately 40% of California’s farm irrigation is done wastefully, using gravity techniques that run across fields and down open ditches.
Halfway across the globe, a desert nation the size of New Jersey has been using a system called Precision Agriculture since the founding of the country over 65 years ago. Israel uses recycled water to fertilize its crops, resulting in a “green revolution.” Israeli farmers water directly on the roots of the plants and minimize waste. Their techniques are equally economical when it comes to any other type of water use. Water is held in deep regard across the tiny nation. And, lately, India and Iran are taking lessons, as detailed in the brief video below.
Recent rains have brought relief to California for now, but a long-term solution to its water problem is not clear. Would a U.S. state entertain the notion of learning how to manage its water resources from a desert country that has established green throughout its land?
By Fern Remedi-Brown