California Crisping: But Business as Usual


The Lake formerly known as Laguna, now in the Great California Desert, where a new — and very short — era of lawn watering, car washing and almond growing has just begun. (Photo by docentjoyce/Flickr)

In the face of a drought whose implications have moved from awesome to cataclysmic, California Governor Jerry Brown has proclaimed a “new era” of water conservation in his afflicted state, an era in which, he said, ‘The idea of your nice little green grass getting lots of water every day, that’s going to be a thing of the past.” He proclaimed a Draconian cut of 25% (wait — a quarter? That’s all?) in the use of water for watering lawns and washing cars (wait — they’re still watering lawns and washing cars?). If all the myriad water boards and commissions ever figure out how to implement and enforce these limitations, and they work as intended, they will cut 25% of 20% of the state’s water usage. The 80% that agriculture uses was not included.

So effectively, that’s a mandated five per cent reduction in the state’s water use in a state whose reservoirs are expected to run out this year, whose groundwater is disappearing so fast the land is sinking, and whose snowpack, which recharges surface water as it melts, is virtually nonexistent. This is the equivalent of leaving one egg out of your breakfast and calling it a life-changing diet.

To be fair, Jerry Brown, the most progressive governor of the most progressive state in the nation, has probably done all that is possible for a governor to do in today’s culture of aggressive ignorance and mulish denial. Yet what he has done is so little, so late, in the face of an enemy so implacable, that it inspires pity rather than admiration. And fear, because if Jerry Brown can’t get it done in California, what hope will we have under President Cruz?

As Governor Brown stood in a brown and crispy mountain meadow that should have had at least five feet of snow on it, and proclaimed a new era of grass getting watered every other day, he did not discuss hopw much of the old era was still going to be with us:

  • Fracking used 70 million gallons of California’s water last year. and there is no suggestion that they ought to restrain themselves this year. Unlike almost all other uses, fracking water cannot be recycled for any other use. They’ve been getting rid of it by pumping it down into the aquifers that are the state’s last-ditch source of fresh water. Seriously. They have.
  • Agriculture uses 80% of California’s water, but was not included in Governor Brown’s new-era restrictions. To be fair, again, agriculture has already experienced mandatory reductions of up to 100% of the irrigation water supplied by pipelines and canals, simply because the water wasn’t there. Still, to call on the people of the state to sacrifice a car wash a week, and not ask corporate farmers to stop washing their cows, or something, fails to pass the smell test.
  • Every day that the drought has worsened, more bone-dry cropland has been converted to almonds, one of the thirstiest crops of all (it takes one gallon of water to produce a single almond). Why? Because the almond market is hot (it tripled in a decade, to $4.8 billion in 2012), almond prices are high, and hedge funds are pouring money into the nut industry, so to speak. No more water from the pipelines or streams? No problem, the almond Mafia just drill until they hit water, California is the only Western state that does not regulate groundwater pumping.
  • Last year, Nestle bottled 50 million gallons of Sacramento-area water — 12% of the city’s total residential consumption — to sell worldwide for an average price of $1.21 per gallon. For that price you could buy 1,000 gallons of Sacramento tap water. If there’s any left.
  • Marijuana growers, who need seven gallons of water per plant per day during the growing season, have been literally sucking streams dry in Humboldt County. Unlike lawn growers, they have not been asked to cut back to a few times a week.
  • The city of Dublin, California, has just broken ground on an enormous new $35 million water park. The pools and water slides will take two years to build. The city water department currently forbids the filling of any empty swimming pool, or presumably water slide, but the city parks department, which is building the water park, hopes the drought will be over in two years. Scientists are thinking it will last about 998 years longer than that.

Talk about a new era.

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One Response to California Crisping: But Business as Usual

  1. Rick Walker says:

    i don’t post on here very often but I do enjoy reading the blog and the accompanying
    comments. I have been reading lately that state lawmakers have been spending
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    little legislative action targets what we will have to do to mitigate the effects of
    climate-change. I think I understand why this is so. It seems pretty clear that we
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