Water scarcity is nothing new
By JEAN-MARC LEININGER
Recent articles in my local newspaper about local wells running dry in the Winters area must be taken seriously. This is the third straight drought year in California, and water levels in aquifers, reservoirs and lakes are getting dangerously low.
Jerry Brown asked Californians to save 20 percent of “normal” water usage. It is a step in the right direction, however one wonders if the “normal” amount of water we use is in fact sustainable in the long term. For example, citizens in most countries with Mediterranean climates like California have been using considerably less water than us, for centuries.
As a kid growing up in Provence, France, I remember my parents filling our bathtub with water in the summer, since water was scarce during tourist season (we blamed it on the Parisians). Later, I lived in North Africa, where the water supply within city limits was unpredictable — it could be days before water would come to my apartment.
While volunteering in Israel on several kibbutzim, I marveled at the art and science of conserving precious scarce water by local engineers and farmers, both Arabs and Jews.
When my uncle lived in Morocco, he showed me the very sophisticated water distribution system used at the Marrakech oasis. For thousands of years, limited water supply there has been judiciously allocated to irrigate orchards and vegetable gardens for generations, while minimizing water losses. Similar water allocation systems have been used from Western Sahara all the way to Persia, to insure water delivery in arid environment. I recommend visiting http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qanat for more details.
Water scarcity is nothing new on our planet, so when I moved to California in the ‘70s, I was amazed at the yields farmers were getting in the central valley because of the abundance of surface and well water. I could not believe how big lawns were, on the UC Davis campus as well as in front of almost everybody’s houses. Wow, houses in Palm Springs with swimming pools! Golf courses in the desert! What a contrast with Europe and the Middle East!
But is all this extravagant water usage really reasonable?
Water is becoming more scarce, and we must now implement a viable plan to make our water supply last. Consumers must start changing their attitude toward water now. Elected representatives at city, county and state levels must come up with rational water policies and procedures, not to privilege a few but to benefit all of us, today, tomorrow and for the long run.
On the individual level, we must open our eyes and realize that we must reduce, reuse and recycle water. I have connected my gutters to a five thousand gallon tank a friend was ready to throw away. A few 3” PVC pipes, connectors and accessories have allowed me through the years to water my olive trees for free, with rainwater collected from my roof.
So imagine if all buildings in California had similar devices to collect rainwater, how much water would be saved. Building owners should start developing their own systems to reduce, reuse and recycle water (and other natural resources) now, or it will be imposed later. In the Land of the Free, and thanks to the never-ending “can do” American attitude, California can soon become a world model of sustainable water and energy usage (think Russ Lester of Dixon Ridge Farm in Winters).
I too often see people at the gym letting kids play under the shower with careless abandon; men shaving or people brushing their teeth while letting the faucet run water down the sink; and folks at home rinsing dishes under a full-on running faucet before loading them in the dish washer. There are still too many sprinkler heads watering more sidewalk area than lawn on a hot afternoon, in Winters and elsewhere. What are these people thinking?
It has now become evident that our wasteful water usage days are coming to an abrupt end: drought or no drought, California does have a limited water supply. We have been purposely ignoring basic long-term water management, except when short-term profit was to be made. Now is a good time to watch the movie “Chinatown” again.
“Normal” water usage in California is still obscenely high, and way out of proportion with what the rest of the world considers normal. A family of five in California is using the same amount of water in one day as the same family would use in a month elsewhere. The end of cheap and plentiful water is coming, and we should have seen it coming decades ago.
Finally, we must make sure our elected officials come up with a real plan to assess our water situation, and develop effective measures to implement long-term water conservation. We must transcend outdated “supply/demand” concepts when it comes to air and water, and move toward policies and procedures that address the finite nature of our precious water in California.
ABOUT JEAN-MARC: Jean-Marc is a French born US citizen who came to California in 1979 to become a sheep rancher. He is a UC Davis graduate in Agricultural & Managerial Economics. Through the years, he has worked for several major financial institutions in Hawaii and in the Sacramento area. He is now a small business owner in Winters, CA. Jean-Marc received his credential of minister in 1987 and has been marrying mostly friends and acquaintances ever since.