With a water supply that some experts predict could dry up within one year, a historic four-year drought threatens the golden state of things in California. This week, Governor Jerry Brown ordered a 25 percent reduction in water usage from the 400 water supply agencies scattered across the state over the next year. The details of this mandatory curbing of consumption that will effect homeowners as well as commercial establishments will be left to the individual agencies. It is sure to impact everything from lawn watering, to something as personal as showering.
To portray the urgency of this new era of conservation, Brown conducted the drought press conference while standing on a grassy patch that is normally covered by five to six feet of snow at this point in the early spring. There is even concern that the fields of golden poppies for which California gets its nickname, will wither in the parched soil that is starved from the drought impact. There is no other area of more concern than the portion of California’s economy that consumes 80 percent of the state’s water – agriculture.
In 2014, the drought and resulting water shortages caused farmers to leave over 400,000 acres fallow and unused. Cut backs in usage have already been in effect for several years in rural agricultural areas of California, resulting in significant unemployment for farm workers. No crop, means no jobs on the farm. Many of the Californian agricultural mainstays, represent some of the most water-usage intensive products including almonds, avocados and even beef. For example, from planting to harvesting, one pound of almonds require an amazing 2,126 gallons of water. Likewise, to produce one pound of beef requires 1,875 gallons of water. In San Diego County, water is so scarce and expensive to access that over 10,000 acres of avocado orchards have been abandoned over the past 10 years. The demand for these products cannot sustain the actual cost that will be required to bring the products to the consumer.
Contrast this stark drought picture on the farms to the emerald valleys of Palm Springs where in the middle of a desert, the daily water consumption per capita is an astounding 201 gallons. There is a high price to pay for “America’s desert oasis” as Palm Springs has referred to itself over the years. Admirably, city officials have taken a proactive approach to changing their usage patterns with an even broader 50 percent reduction projection. They are replacing grassy knolls around city buildings with native landscapes, and paying for the exchange of manicured turf with more indigenous desert flora. The city is even offering a rebate on the installation of low-flow toilets. However, a drive through wealthy neighborhoods that dot the landscape indicate that there is much work to be done.
State and local officials plan to impose usage restrictions on non-agricultural growth, like golf courses and cemeteries. Officials are setting the auspicious goal of replacing up to 50 million acres of recreational grass in parks and municipal installations, with growth that requires less water as this historic drought persists. There is hope that reductions will not require punitive actions to achieve compliance, but the history of voluntary calls for reductions have been ignored or have failed to achieve expressed goals.
Governor Brown recognizes that this drought effort will require learning and complete adjustment to the typical Californian lifestyle. He claims this campaign will require more than just spending less time in the shower – it will take a unified commitment to stop “living the way we always have.” Without significant and enduring changes, this epic drought stands to threaten the golden state of California for years to come.
By Chris Marion
Photo by John Weiss – Flickr License