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There is no question, each of us in some way is feeling the effects of today’s ongoing drought—one in many that have recurred with some regularity over the last century but whose severity is getting worse each time. We must keep in mind that the drought’s impact is not just being felt here in California or the Southwest but across the nation and the world. Therefore, whether one believes in global warming or not, there is little dispute that we, as individuals, can and must change our own practices in order to alleviate the impact of these repeated, disastrous weather patterns.

California Long-Term Drought

Don't Be Fooled! The Drought Isn't Going Away Anytime Soon!—Rosemary Jenkins

What we must do goes beyond personal lifestyle. What we eat and, thus, what is grown and where are major components of the water crisis. How much water we consume inside our homes (and businesses) and outside in our gardens, pools, and fountains are significant contributors to how we will contain this “natural” catastrophe. [“Natural” is in quotes because most of what is transpiring today with regard to our climate has been exacerbated by human practice and indifference and is not natural at all.]

As it stands, Californians on average consume about 1900 gallons of water per day. One pair of blue jeans requires 900 gallons of water to manufacture. A glass of wine? 32 gallons. One tomato? 3 gallons. One 8 oz. steak? 1232 gallons. A hamburger? 616 gallons. One plastic bottle containing water? Ironically, 1.85 gallons of water for a container holding far less than that! The latter two do depend primarily on “green water”—liquid falling from the heavens (yet often containing pollutants—remember acid rain?).

The portent of an almost irreversible agronomic calamity has driven California Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian (AD 46) to sponsor his third annual Water Crisis Forum at the very hospitable Valley College just a few days ago. The Water Issues presentations by the panel of experts were very enlightening and realistic. Nothing was sugar-coated. What we are facing in the near- and far-term can bring genuinely tragic consequences if we are not willing to put our new and deeper awareness into positive action.

According to a recent UC Davis Report, thousands of jobs are being lost to the drought. At least 10,000 agriculture-related jobs per year have disappeared and another 10,000 from the “spill-over” effect have occurred. Consider our dependence on food, clothing, housing, health-related practices, entertainment, and so forth. The workers employed through each of those domains are also being affected when farmworkers are laid-off. To quote Josué Medellin-Azuara of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, “If a drought of this intensity persists beyond 2015, California’s agricultural production and employment will continue to erode.”

In dollars and cents, that translates to about $1.84 billion disappearing annually from the agricultural industry—with an aggregate impact of $2.74 billion each year on all of us in California. Just think of how what transpires here can and will have a domino impact on other states and nations!

Much talk has been made of the negative effects of fracking on our environment. Increased earthquake activity is but one of them. Unfortunately, not enough of us are aware of how the drought can also bring about seismic activity. Lately, many areas in our state are sinking an average of 4 inches and will continue to do so as our aquifers and groundwater are depleted to provide water now for agricultural purposes and potable water for the general population. Just imagine, in our earthquake-prone state, the effect this subsidence can have on the physical structures we take for granted, such as our homes, businesses, farm houses, and so much more.

Assemblymember Nazarian, an effective and prescient leader, introduced a bill recently to reduce fracking, a process which uses a disproportionate amount of water, which in itself becomes contaminated through the procedure—waste water from the practice can seep into our groundwater and/or be re-injected into the ground during the continued fracking process.

The fact is that many farmers are digging deeper and drilling more wells to meet not only their own agrarian needs but also the ever-increasing demands placed upon them for their crops--despite the fact that a significant decrease in water availability is an inevitable outcome. It is true that “California is the world’s richest food- producing region,” but that cannot forgive irresponsible farming. Accordingly, owners need to consider a different way of irrigating their current crops and must also consider the possibility of replacing at least some crops that demand more water with those that require less.

Not only do we need to deal with today’s drought but we need to have the foresight to put water aside for future needs. This will not happen if we are so myopic that we operate in a way that will only satisfy current demands. In response to this ongoing emergency, Governor Brown has set down new regulations which will help “reverse the depletion of underground reserves.” We must be grateful for a leadership that often insists on strict rules but whose results will produce a positive impact on the current and future water issues that we shall continue to face for some time in the future.

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Furthermore, it is simply not reasonable to look only at what immediately affects the human condition. Literally, we are losing thousands of creatures to extinction every single day. We cannot be indifferent to assuring their continued existence and, ergo, our own. We must protect our fellow creatures and their habitats and understand the symbiotic relationship we have with all of them. Our very existence depends on how we handle the challenge that is currently confronting us.

At the very least, there is a circle of life that must be maintained. When people scoff at the efforts to save the salamander and other creatures, they don’t seem to understand how maintenance of those life cycles matters to our own lives!

It is interesting that the LA Aqueduct was created a century ago to meet the needs of California’s burgeoning population [upon the urging of then-President Teddy Roosevelt (a genuine conservationist) for people to expand Westward]. It was a 300-mile long project which, perhaps, is the epitome of unintended consequences. Therefore, it is neither surprising nor ironic that our demands have far outgrown today’s water supply--let alone what those Aqueduct policy-makers and engineers of yesteryear envisioned decades ago.

At present, Los Angeles City and County are doing well in their efforts at water conservation. We are demonstrating a leadership that is not unexpected, yet the proposals are still not enough. With all the recent discussion about a Godzilla El Niño occurring in the near future, we must not give ourselves permission to start slacking off. The fact is that it would take several years of El Niños simply to break even with the water lost over the last 4 years of California’s drought.

Unquestionably, it is imperative that we invest in a system and an infrastructure that will address the contemporary demands on today’s water supply. It should be apparent that we cannot afford to defer decisions. Logical, reasonable, productive policies must be put into place immediately.

In addition to what government is planning for the greater community, a number of methods are being considered for the individual and the family to mitigate the ravages of the drought (and for many options, rebates are still being offered, not only for water reduction but for other energy efficiencies as well): low-flow toilets, faucets, and showerheads; substituting some showers with sponge-baths; hot-water returns; tankless water heaters; drip and subterranean irrigation (no sprinkler heads); drought-resistant and native plant landscaping; recycling ground water and using graywater for irrigation and other purposes; collecting rainwater with rain barrels; watering outside fewer times a week, before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m.; keeping pools and jacuzzis covered; recycling water in fountains and waterfalls; not washing down concrete sidewalks and driveways; washing cars at home with shut-off hoses.

There is some discussion about covering as much of the open Aqueduct as possible—in some locations with solar; in others, with other materials. You have heard of the black balls that have, just lately, been placed over our own LA Reservoir. Its costs are well outweighed by the good they will do in reducing evaporation—hence, the suggestion that we cover our swimming pools, jacuzzis, and fountains (possibly a mandate in the future).

When all is said and done, the drought is an ongoing issue that must be confronted by each of us. It starts with our own initiative and creativity. We cannot wait for our government or the other person to act. We, ourselves, can be the role models. Others will follow.

For further details, please contact the following:

Cesar Chavez Memorial
  • The Office of Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian (AD 46)
  • Demetri J. Polyzos, Senior Engineer, Water Resource Management Group
  • Martin L. Adams, Senior Assistant General Manager, Water System for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
  • Danny Merkley, Director, Water Resources, California Farm Bureau Federation

Rosemary Jenkins