March 21, 2015
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California is in the midst of a dangerous water crisis, one that demands meaningful solutions but is still mired in Band-Aid mode. Residents know about the ongoing drought which has been exhaustively documented since it began four years ago. Experts differ on how severe the drought is and how much longer it may last. But all agree the water shortage is acute.
Cornell University scientist Toby Ault compares megadroughts like California’s with great white sharks — “powerful, dangerous and hard to detect before it’s too late.” Ault calls megadroughts, defined as extreme dry periods that last a decade or longer, a threat to civilization, and predicts that as bad off as California is, conditions could get worse.
University of California, Irvine professor and senior water and NASA’s senior water cycle analyst Jay Famiglietti agrees with Ault that the day of reckoning is at hand. California has one year of water left in reservoir storage, and ground water is perilously low. Famiglietti laments that California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought, let alone a megadrought. Looking at the image of a bone-dry Folsom Lake that accompanies Famiglietti’s research, there’s little doubt that the moment of truth has arrived.
Sacramento does, however, have a plan of sorts, not that it will do much good. Earlier this week, the State Water Resources Control Board authorized new restrictions including token gestures like optional drinking water at restaurants, and hotel laundry done on request only.
Good luck. Every year, California welcomes about 16 million international visitors, and millions more that visit from out of state. California tourists spend about $120 billion each year, and generate more than $5 billion in state taxes and an additional $4 billion in local taxes. Not all of them stay at hotels, and those that do may honor requests to conserve water. But others will waste water with abandon whether they’re drinking it, showering or flushing. Mandated, tough restrictions might hamper tourism so Sacramento isn’t going there.
Then, there’s California’s bar and restaurant industry that offers diners more than 65,000 locations to eat and drink. The industry accounts for $72 billion in sales, and employs 1.6 million workers, 10 percent of the state’s total employment. Each dollar spent at a restaurant creates another $1.16 in indirect income for California’s economy. Given the restaurant industry’s importance to California, if a customer wants to drink ten pitchers of water with his meal, neither the state legislature nor the owner will interfere.
For the second consecutive year, Governor Brown and the State Legislature have introduced emergency drought relief funding. Last year, Brown signed a $687 million package aimed at helping drought stricken communities; on Thursday, Brown introduced a supplemental $1 billion bill.
Some optimists think that the drought will stimulate creative ideas for conservation. Let’s hope so because the best solution is too politically incorrect to discuss — measures that might help reduce the numbers of water consumers, or in other words fewer people.
Not only is stabilized population too taboo to mention, Brown wants more. Last August, the governor chided “affluent families” for not having children even though Brown is “affluent” and childless. And back in Washington, D.C., at the National Governors Association conference, Brown insulted proponents of sensible immigration levels when he called them “troglodytes” and “anti-Christian,” ugly terms to describe those who want the state to live within its limits.
Californians support family planning and reasonable immigration. In the 1970, California’s population was 20 million. Today, it’s approaching 40 million and climbing. No one can rationally argue that California wouldn’t be better off if it had pursued sustainable growth policies.
Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Adult School in 2008. He’s a Californians for Population Stabilization senior writing fellow. Contact Joe at [email protected].