Realities of the California drought

The drought in California is truly unprecedented and the National Academy of Sciences found the present drought as the worst in 1,200 years from research examining tree rings across the state.  

Gov. Jerry Brown’s 25 percent mandatory reduction on city and towns water usage is certainly an improvement on the situation, though critics say it woefully fails to address the true problems of where California uses its water and offers no long term solution about how to better conserve and utilize water in all industries throughout the state.

Adam Scow of Food and Water Watch California said, “In the midst of a severe drought, the governor continues to allow corporate farms and oil interests to deplete and pollute our precious groundwater resources.”

Brown’s order on water reduction in domestic use carries no legislative enforcement. It leaves the enforcement up to individual water agencies. How seriously citizens take this order in terms of their personal usage can only be determined with time.

“Personally I think the order for water reduction is a bit arbitrary, the mandate needs to be stricter because the severity of the drought still isn’t fully appreciated by many people.” Said freshman Steffan Grace. “Northern Californians are uniquely unaware aware about the issue because we receive water first from reservoirs that is later distributed to southern California. Access to water is a fundamental human right and our current system involves a great deal of water control under private industry that ought to be remedied.”

Grace’s statement reflects the sentiment of many SSU students. That is that they understand the severity of the drought, but are dismayed by doubts over how effective a 25 percent cut domestic water use will prove in the long run. Other students are more optimistic about how changes in personal habits can help remedy the water dilemma.

Laura Watt, chair of the department of environmental studies and planning at SSU said, “I think students should be aware not just of their own individual water use, but also the water represented by the items they use -- and I don’t just mean agricultural products, but also consumer products like iPhones or automobiles, and services like plane flights and, to be frank, the use of electricity itself.” 

Water is consumed through all levels of the economic ladder. Eating within season alone can significantly reduce one’s water consumption. 

“Is eliminating tomatoes from our diet in the winter really such a sacrifice in comparison to the overall integrity of our planet’s ecosystems in the long run?” said SSU student, vegan and environmental activist Auriel Arthur.

With any resource, especially with water in a state that often runs dry of that precious resource ,being profligate may need to be avoided. The lush green lawns at SSU may raise into question the schools seriousness in tackling the issue of water reduction, and may send the wrong message to the community.

“I started a policy in my dorm that we wouldn’t flush the toilet. “If its yellow let it mellow if it’s brown flush it down. We’re not as affected in northern California. I appreciate how our school takes measures to conserve water such as reusing water in the bathrooms,” said Freshman Rheannon Eisworth “I recently read an article about how meat production affects the environment.

Cattle farms are often a point source for environmental contamination and use a great deal of water. It takes 4,000 to 18,000 gallons of water just to produce a single burger according to the U.S. geological survey. Partially for this reason I have chosen to be vegetarian.”

Stanford researchers say that human driven climate change is changing the climate of California. 

Stanford professor Noah Diffenbaugh said, “It really matters if the lack of precipitation happens during a warm or cool year.” Most climatologists agree that as a general rule of thumb climate change tends to make some drier areas of the globe drier, and wetter areas of the globe wetter. California represents a quintessential example of this trend.

The 25 percent reduction of water consumption aimed at urban areas is a step in the right direction, but human consumption of water in the state represents 10-12 percent of usage. A figure comparable to the 10 percent of the state’s water used for the almond industry alone. Altering the types of crops grown in California to ones that require less water could help remedy this conundrum. Tomatoes, squash, peas and beans use significantly less water than crops such as grapes, almonds or rice.

According to the Sonoma County Water Agency, Lake Sonoma, the primary contributor to the county's water supply, stood at 88 percent capacity as of April 9. Lake Mendocino, a key drinking water source for the cities of Ukiah, Healdsburg, Cloverdale and Hopland and a supplier of water for southern parts of the county, stood at 67 percent.

Some go so far to say California legislatures ought to weigh the possibility of not releasing water into the Sacramento River that’s set aside for the annual salmon migration. Regardless of personal opinions, the vast majority of people recognize that water in California is a serious and dire issue. Yet the public remains wary of taking action. 

More extreme measure such as reforming the agriculture in California and reducing the water released for salmon might be necessary. Either way, the issue of the drought is here to stay. The present drought may truly be the new norm.