California's Real Sustainability Problem: Not Budgets, Water Resources Management


Shasta Dam & Reservoir, aerial view. Image credit:Univ of California at Davis, Elizabeth Dawson

Last minute negotiations may have solved California's budget crisis; but, a more protracted problem shadows the future of civilization-as-they-know-it: water reservoirs are drying up; and climate change is likely to worsen the problem. Food prices throughout North American, and even parts of Asia, which import produce from California, will be affected in the short-term. Long-term water shortage prospects point to an either-or scenario: social disorganization on a large scale or, alternatively, to massive, government-funded water project expansions, plus water conservation measures, and dietary changes.

Some immediate impacts are likely.
Let's begin with agriculture. Time Magazine reports that:-

Federal water managers said Friday that they plan to cut off water, at least temporarily, to thousands of California farms as a result of the deepening drought gripping the state.
Non-Californians: If you have been thinking about planting your own vegetable garden for the first time, now would be a good time to order seed and buy a shovel and pick.

Is a reverse dust bowl move coming - meaning thirsty Californians moving to the Midwest?
Reuters reports:-

that nation's biggest public utility voted on Tuesday to impose water rationing in Los Angeles for the first time in nearly two decades.
Other municipal areas in California are considering similar measures. Sounds like fear mongering, I know. But, long-term projections point to more than the water-related limits to growth. They point to large social and political changes in North America - with more big government interventions for certain.

How dry is it?
The State's water resources are managed through diverse and variously interconnected networks of reservoirs, canals, pipelines, pubic and private wells, and irrigation systems. The largest of these systems were created with direct input of US taxpayer dollars and managed by coordinated Governmental authorities. Not by entrepreneurs.

To get the details on water management in California, you have to go to the headwaters, to where water resources are mostly controlled - the Federal Bureau of Reclamation, in this case (as symbolized in the picture of the Shasta Reservoir, above). Wait...the government controls water and that controls what we eat?

Yes. Water resource management in much of the US West is based on a long standing socialist conspiracy, funded at taxpayer expense. Water has this nasty habit of crossing state lines, sinking into other peoples' wells, and sneaking away through evaporation: which means everyone has to work together to share and conserve when water is tight.

Our ancestors produced a metaphor that remains emblematic of the need to 'govern' our shared waters. It is the communal village well. Hard to find a picture of one in California that still functions. This one from Mexico symbolizes the idea.


The Old Hacienda Well. Image credit:San Miguel photo of the day blog, Jon of SMA

Everyone gets together to work on and maintain the shared wells, so they can produced enough to support the larger village.

Californians will soon be belly-to-belly over water management choices if climate-driven shortages continue, as projected. The Federal government unavoidably has a big role to play in that discussion. Which means US taxpayers will have a role. Reports the Bureau of Reclamation:-

"If dry conditions persist through the spring, California will be facing its worst drought ever recorded, and this week's forecasts for projected runoff suggest tough times ahead," said Donald Glaser, Regional Director for Reclamation's Mid-Pacific Region. "Although we will do all we can within our authorities in the coming days to make operational adjustments, we expect that the initial allocations that we will announce next week will not be good news for anyone."

How dry will it be years from now?
National Geographic News presents a fine overview of future prospects in their story: Western U.S. Faces Drought Crisis, Warming Study Says.

Update:Today's New York Times edition is covering the combined impacts of drought and economic downturn on California's most agriculturally productive area - Severe Drought Adds to Hardships in California A short excerpt:

Richard Howitt, the chairman of the agricultural and resource economics department at the University of California, Davis, estimates that 60,000 to 80,000 jobs could be lost — including in ancillary businesses — and that as much as $2.2 billion in crop and other losses could be caused by restrictions on water and the drought, which he called "hydrologically as bad as 1977 and economically as bad as 1991."

More posts on California drought.
Phasing Out Water Softeners: A Coming Necessity In Drought ...
Climate Change Expected to Drastically Alter California
Change Coming To Water Politics - Twelve US States Face Extended ...
Succulent Landscaping Plants Gain Popularity For Drought Tolerance ...

Tags: Agriculture | California | Drought

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