Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I Want to Be a Lawn

The US Drought Monitor tells us that 94% of California is in severe drought (or worse). On May 19th, a Field Poll was released of Californians’ attitudes to water cutbacks. Folks who own homes with large lawns and pools faced off against farmers who watched shoulder shrugs from apartment renters. The state’s governor, Jerry Brown, and his Water Resources Control Board have ordered 25% reductions, hoping to prevent that fateful turning off the taps that afflicted Brazil’s largest city recently. 44% of Californians suggest that it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to implement those cutback mandates, but 47% believe they could conserve more.
With agriculture contributing about 2% to California’s GDP but consuming 80% of the water – much of it on water-guzzling crops like nut trees – 57% of those surveyed believed that farmers could change crops and otherwise have the capability to reduce water consumptions significantly. But 26% said it would be an untenable hardship for farmers to effect such changes.
The May 18th Sacramento Bee provides this analysis (and an amusing anecdotal response): “Homeowners of all income levels appear sensitive to water pricing, with 70 percent saying it would be a somewhat or very serious problem if their water district raised their water bill by 15 percent or 25 percent, according to the poll.
“Bruce Evans, a poll respondent from California City in Kern County, said he has already strained to conserve water and that he cannot afford to do more… ‘I flush as seldom as possible, I shower every two or three days,’ the 65-year-old said. ‘I’m at the edge now.’... Evans, who said the state should negotiate with some other, wetter state to bring in water, is among the minority of Californians who disagree with Brown’s water reduction order… His opinion is partly for reasons related to conservation, he said, and partly because of the politician issuing the order… ‘I oppose Jerry Brown,’ he said, ‘in every way, shape or form.’”
Despite the fact that California has faced serious droughts before, though nothing remotely as threatening as the current and apparently long-term crisis, the state has failed to date to deal with archaic water laws that give strange controls and priorities to historical users of natural waterways and ground water, effectively exempting a whole panoply of senior users from the kinds of water restrictions we all know are necessary.
But recognizing that this system (a) will be restructured out of necessity and (b) there just isn’t enough water no matter how you slice it, key farmers and the Water Resources Control Board just reached an interim accord on local agricultural water usage:  “The agreement is the first of its kind in more than 30 years, and involves farmers in the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers… Others in this category - known as senior rights holders - are irrigation districts, utilities with hydropower stations, and cities, including San Francisco.
“Thousands of the state's junior water rights holders - those whose claims to water usage date back only as far as 1914 - have already had their water use curtailed this year. Those are mostly farmers getting no federal irrigation deliveries… Under California's system, junior water rights holders have to stop taking water from rivers and streams so there is enough flow left to satisfy the demand of those with older claims.     
“About 350 farmers met on [May 20th] to discuss an attempt to avoid deeper mandatory cuts to their water allowance. ‘That doesn't necessarily mean they'll all participate’ in the voluntary 25% reduction, said Michael George, the state's water master for the delta. But he said he believed many would…The farming industry has come under fire in recent weeks from residents who have been forced to turn off their sprinklers and time their showers under threat of heavy fines…The agreement gives the farmers until 1 June to present plans for how they will make the proposed cuts.” BBC.com, May 23rd. If these voluntary measures do not work, the battle will move to the state assembly where these obsolete water policies will face modern realities.
California is America’s ‘global climate change’ canary in the coal mine. Just as flooding slams other communities far east of California, South Kansas and north Texas watch their groundwater disappear (as north Kansas floods!) without meaningful hope of replenishment, and heavy tropic storms threaten Florida and the Gulf Coast, the United States… the world for that matter… literally has to come to grips with monumental climate change that seems to have passed the tipping point for a return to the halcyon days of the past. Even slowing the acceleration of warming is not happening at a pace that remotely gives us solace for a comfortable future. But it does remind us that our planet is a living organism… capable of hateful responses to mankind’s arrogant abuse of its resources.
I’m Peter Dekom, and the excuses of those who wish to continue wasteful and harmful practices with this planet’s resources have just run out.

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