Thursday, February 05, 2009

Now is the time to start making changes

As it is becoming increasingly clear that this is going to be the third year in row with below normal rainfall, I have spent a lot of time reviewing the manner in which the media around the state is covering this story. The story varies somewhat from paper to paper if they cover it at all. But, in general, most follow this logic. This is the third year of a drought. The effects are going to be felt most heavily on agriculture. Consumers will feel it in higher prices at the grocery store. Government ought to do something.

(reposted from the Morgan Hill Times... read it there or click Read more!)

This logic makes the assumption that what we are seeing is the low side of a cycle of drought and plenty and we would be OK if we only save more from times of plenty to use later. Even major news service, like Bloomberg, get the economic point. It will cost California Agriculture more than $1 billion and the California Farm Bureau Association estimates that it will cost 40,000 jobs.

I have two problems with this scenario. First, it leaves out a major part of the story, climate change. Then it leaves us with the impression that we can continue doing things in the same manner that we have done them in the past. That might be true if it were not for problem number one.

There is a high probability that what we are experiencing this year will not be viewed as an extraordinary event in the coming year. In fact, it may be the new normal in a warming climate. The impact of that on California Agriculture will be huge if nothing is done. Some farmers are beginning to plan.

Most newspapers do not cover the story in this manner, especially not the major papers in the coastal population centers. The Merced Sun Star emphasized the idea that current conditions may stay around for a long time. In discussing the impact of climate change on water resources, they write that "local land use, development and their impacts on water planning comprise another issue. Today, a collection of interests compete over the same sources of water. The success or failure of local preparations for the impending water crisis will make all the difference."

It seems that most papers can write about water, or global warming, but have not yet grasped that watersheds and the climate are very dynamic, interconnected systems and we can no longer afford to treat them as little boxed problems to solve.

In September, 2008, the Pacific Institute, a Bay Area think tank, published a report that made the case that we can solve our water problems with better management of existing water, especially for agriculture; "More with Less: Agricultural Water Conservation and Efficiency in California - A Special Focus on the Delta."

As the title suggests, it is all about conservation. They got their hands dirty on farms, in irrigation ditches, all over this state before they came to the conclusion that it was possible.

We need, however, to start considering that some farmers may need to grow different crops. At a very simple level, even I have been doing that. We are replacing an olive tree with a jujube for the specific reason that it does well in dry conditions. U.C. Davis is working on a plan for some counties to switch their major crops as the climate changes, adjusting their agriculture to different temperature and water realities.

A public works officials once told me that they did not want to mention water conservation in a good year because then they would not have that tool to fall back on when a drought hits. This type of thinking is the epitome of bureaucratic thinking rather than ecological thinking.

Just like the farmers, we are all going to have to make changes, maybe even lifestyle changes, to ensure that we have the water we need. The days are over when we can assume that our water district will supply whatever water we want whenever we want it.

At least, the Santa Clara Valley Water District has good programs for water efficiency even though they do not promote them enough. Earlier this year, I wrote about taking out lawn and replacing it with a combination of pavers and bark. The project is completed and I have my rebate check safely in the bank. The only complaint that I had was the fact that it took too long to process the check after I submitted my paperwork and had the final inspection. Otherwise, the only pain was in my arms from carrying all of those pavers.

Finally, I would have to say that Congressman Jerry McNerney 'gets it." He introduced The Healthy Communities Water Supply Act, H.R. 700.

According to his press release, this act "will authorize $250 million - double the 2007 proposed authorization - in funding for projects that increase the usable water supply by encouraging innovation in water conservation, recharge, recycling, reuse, and reclamation."

One by one, we are all going to have to make changes and now is the time to start.

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