California’s drought is putting the concept of unlimited growth under severe scrutiny, and for good reasons.
When it comes to water, California is running out of options — and time. Suffering through its fourth year of excruciating drought…the state’s snow pack is at an all-time low… Governor Brown has issued unprecedented water restrictions…surface and ground water is quickly drying up…and crop and pasture losses are escalating.
The latest US Drought Monitor map shows that 58% of the state is experiencing “exceptional drought.” According to Joshua Haggmark, water resources manager for the city of Santa Barbara, even tougher times are ahead. “Our big water shortage is going to come in 2017 if things don’t improve,” he says. “This drought is pretty significant and has certainly exceeded our worst drought of record.”
Some cities are looking into desalinization to solve local water shortages, such as Carlsbad in north San Diego County, which is investing $1 billion in the nation’s largest seawater desalinization planet that, at peak capacity, will only supply 7 percent of the county’s water needs. While desalinization is an expensive solution, it provides some drought resiliency for cities, and is, ultimately, a better choice than running out of water entirely.
If current drought conditions continue, state leaders may have to look at moving entire populations. “Civilizations in the past have had to migrate out of areas of drought,” Lynn Wilson, academic chair at Kaplan University said. “We may have to migrate people out of California.” Options such as importing water into the state would certainly be explored before drastic action is taken, but, as Wilson says, “migration can’t be taken off the table.”
While cities and towns throughout the state are feeling the pinch, California’s agricultural sector has been hit the hardest, perhaps because it is the State’s largest water user. California’s agricultural sector uses 75 percent of the state’s water resource, while cities and suburbs use about 20 percent. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, more water was used in 2013 to grow almonds (the second largest water-consuming crop after alfalfa) than was used by all homes and businesses in San Francisco and Los Angeles put together.
Shockingly, Governor Brown excluded large agricultural operations and oil and gas firms from his recently issued mandatory water restrictions, absolving major farms entirely from the 25 percent reduction in water use.