Koretz Introduces Slate of Motions to Combat Drought

22 Apr 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

California Mandatory Water Restrictions Pit Crops Versus Lawns.

With California in the midst of a drought and officials urging residents to conserve, self-appointed “water vigilantes” are using their smartphones to catch neighbors in the act of wasting water, then posting their names and even their addresses online using the hashtag #DroughtShaming.California Governor Jerry Brown’s decision to exclude farms from water-use restrictions to counter the state’s historic drought has reignited tensions between homeowners who covet green lawns and pools and farmers who produce half the produce grown in the U.S. Self-proclaimed “water crusader” Tony Corcoran told Rossen Reports: “We need people to stop wasting water if we’re going to be able to have a California.” But Karen North, a psychologist and social media expert at the University of Southern California, said: “Instead of going online and shaming people publicly, which might be useless, why doesn’t this guy just go to the city and tell the city, ‘Stop these people — they’re using too much water.'”

Reducing residential use makes more sense than harming high-value crops such as nuts and worsening agricultural revenue losses already projected at almost 3 percent this year, he said. “A lot of people can’t grow their crops, they’re fallowing land,” Brown told reporters at a fairground north of Sacramento this month. “It is different than watering an ornamental plant and growing broccoli or lettuce or walnuts or almonds.” The tensions are a reminder that Californians built the world’s seventh-largest economy, the nation’s top farming industry and Silicon Valley, the center of information technology, in a semi-arid environment that struggles to sustain 38 million people. In a 2013 survey by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), state water managers from around the country said they expect freshwater shortages to continue into the next decade, even under what they described as “average” conditions. The restrictions, which mandate that urban water users cut a quarter of their consumption, are pitting residents in the north, from which most of the state’s water comes, against southern Californians in Los Angeles and San Diego.

Recently, the US Department of Agriculture reported that US supermarket prices rose just 2.9 percent in 2014, and were only expected to increase 2 to 3 percent in 2015. If those conditions change—whether because of rapid population growth, unusually low snowfall or rainfall, or accelerated economic growth—the situation could worsen. “As far as other states, if they haven’t seen it in the past, it’s something they will see in the future,” said Ben Chou, a water policy analyst in the Los Angeles office of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

But we like our neighborhoods green, and that’s a problem – especially since we also need to drink and bathe and get businesses the water they need to flourish. Welcome to the water crisis of 2015, which 68 percent of Californians surveyed in February said was a “serious situation,” according to the Field Poll. What’s more, the USDA currently projects that overall fruit and vegetable prices will barely budge in 2015 — despite the severe and ongoing drought in California. The rules ban all restaurants, bars, and hotels from serving water unless customers ask for it, ban the watering of lawns and landscaping within 48 hours of measurable rain, and require municipalities and private companies to limit lawn watering to two days a week. It’s hard to remember in the middle of such a severe drought, but in the middle of the past decade there was heated discussion about whether wet winters and years of neglect had put several flood protection networks at risk of a major collapse.

Given California’s propensity to survive these purported crises, I worry that all this drought talk might only give the public a case of crisis fatigue. Tim Davis, Montana Water Resources Division administrator, said his department told the GAO that in any given year, any part of the state could have a water shortage. But how can you exempt 80 percent of the water users?” Brown’s executive order mandates a 25 percent reduction in urban water use and requires new homes to feature water-efficient irrigation if the builder plans to use potable water for landscaping. Entering this irrigation season for farmers, Davis said the southwest region remains dry as is “much more of the state.” “Drought is one of those disasters that you have to plan for,” he said. “You can’t just immediately go out there and change how you’re using water on the ground or invest in efficiencies unless you have been doing it all along.” He said the state is making plans to share water between communities during times of drought, along with changing field irrigation methods to save water. He also called for 50 million square feet of lawns to be replaced with drought-tolerant landscaping, and required campuses, golf courses and cemeteries to cut back.

In 2000 and 2001, California suffered various energy shortages – in hindsight, many created artificially – that led to a total overhaul of the energy market. The California State Water Resources Control Board has proposed rules to carry out Brown’s order, calling for the state’s 411 urban water suppliers to cut use by as much as 36 percent, with those that conserve less facing tougher restrictions. What’s more, some farmers facing water shortages have also experienced favorable temperatures and growing conditions — strawberry farmers are one example — which has blunted the impact. The recession slashed the taxable incomes of many Californians, notably the state’s richest, who lost their ability to make big bucks and huge capital gains.

Strict austerity measures – including cutbacks in funding for education, entitlement programs and staffing – plus tax increases to help bridge the budget gap. He’s fallowed a third of his land. “I think maybe the fresh fruits and vegetables are a little bit more important.” “I wish there was enough water that people didn’t lose their lawns, and I wish the state 10 years ago had done something so we wouldn’t be in the situation where we’re getting people to give up their lawns,” he said.

The federal government has been cutting back on the amount of water delivered to farmers in the Central Valley, due to lower-than-expected snowfall and runoff from the Sierra Nevada mountains. In a report to Republican governor Sam Brownback completed in January, the water office, along with other agencies and citizen groups, painted a bleak picture.

If nothing changes in the next 50 years, the report predicted, the Ogallala will be 70% depleted and the state’s reservoirs will be 40% filled with sediment. The crop was the second-most valuable agricultural commodity in the state behind milk at $5.8 billion in 2013, California Department of Food and Agriculture data show. The group called for the creation of a water resources subcabinet to advise the governor and a task force to develop financing for water resource management, including alternatives that utilize public-private partnerships. The problem is that those underground aquifers are getting depleted rapidly — and, since they built up over a long period of time, they don’t recharge easily.

Almond growers contend they have reduced consumption per pound by a third in the last 20 years. “I can tell you, because I talk to a lot of farmers, that they’re under a lot of pressure,” Brown said at the fairgrounds. “It’s not just taking a quicker shower or flushing the toilet one more time. A 2012 study in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences found that the Central Valley’s aquifers don’t refill completely even during California’s “wet” periods (because pumping doesn’t totally stop). But Kansas’ struggle to fill an estimated $340 million budget gap has stalled progress on the task force recommendation that the state find money to implement water conservation plans. Kansas’ Streeter says more states in the east are asking for his advice as they prepare for a future with less water. “Drought is insidious, it doesn’t land on you overnight, it creeps up on you,” Streeter said. “Agriculture feels it first—you can start having crop failures within weeks of having no rain.

But what about the future? (For its part, the state of California has begun regulating groundwater withdrawals, but rules on sustainability will only be slowly phased in between 2020 and 2040.) Of course, just because supermarket prices are staying steady doesn’t mean the drought has been completely painless. A worrisome belief is that federal disaster relief will bail people out – even though Uncle Sam’s aid has not been a panacea in recent disasters elsewhere. • Prison crisis.

Various fixes – from court-ordered releases of low-risk inmates to additional prison construction – has somewhat eased the overcrowding. • Housing crises. California’s huge scope – physically, politically and economically – means that some slice of life will almost always be badly out of kilter with reality.

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