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What America Can Learn From the California Water Crisis


By Scott Huntington

It has been four years since California first slipped into the drought that’s now causing panic among the state’s citizens and government. Ninety-three percent of Californians have been affected by the lack of water. The greatest cause of panic, though, is that it doesn’t look like this drought will end any time soon.

Researchers head up to the Sierra Nevada mountains each year to analyze the snowpack and predict just how much precipitation will fall in the next year. They found 40 percent less snowpack on the mountains this year than they did last year. This news is particularly bad, considering snowpack can predict about 70 percent of precipitation that will happen in the future. Californians, therefore, can count on even less rain next year than in the last, and last year’s measurements were already very low.

Since Mother Nature doesn’t seem keen to repair the drought on its own, the state of California has had to enact a slew of regulations in order to keep its water supply as robust as humanly possible. As it fights against perhaps one of the worst dry spells in 1,000 years, California teaches the rest of the country many vital lessons when it comes to dealing with and reversing the effects of a drought; below you’ll find three of them.

1. Prepare for big fluctuations in water

There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground in California. The state either has plenty of water from rain and snowfall, or it’s in a state of drought. In fact, the water supply ebbs and flows by up to 40 million acre-feet, depending on the year.

In times of lesser drought, officials have simply shuttled water from the precipitation-heavy northern half of the state to the more heavily populated south. Unfortunately, their system isn’t standing up to the current shortage of water. And, to make matters worse, Mother Nature hasn’t added much by way of melting snow or falling rain.

Take note: The best preparation comes before disaster strikes. A more consistent water-saving plan and a better infrastructure for sending and sharing water statewide could have softened the blow.

2. Keep the wildlife in mind

Humans aren’t the only ones who need water. Your long shower or afternoon car-wash might mean your local stream or river is reduced to a trickle. These trickles can’t maintain any sort of ecosystem.

California has plenty of laws in place meant to keep these ecosystems thriving. It might cause some to scratch their heads — why should a fish be prioritized over me? — but it’s vital to the environment at large.

Other areas should follow suit by coming up with a similar plan of action, should main water supplies start to run low. It’s okay to dip into the pond, but you never want to drain it entirely.

3. Seek an unlikely culprit

You’ve heard tips like lathering up in the shower while the water’s off and brushing your teeth without opening the tap. Many residents are also going to professional pools or community pools instead of filling up their own. These are all great ideas and can be enacted in households everywhere; however, your domestic water usage doesn’t hold a candle to agricultural usage.

Surprisingly enough, California’s agricultural sector makes up a whopping 80 percent of the state’s water usage, while city usage counts for the remaining 20 percent. California is a huge food supplier to the rest of the country, but at what cost? It’s an interesting question for other states and areas to ask should they fall into a similar situation.

There’s no foolproof way to deal with a drought, and there’s no way to point fingers and say who is or isn’t to blame for California’s current state of crisis. If everyone takes time to be more mindful — government, farmers and citizens together — then perhaps other states can avoid the stress of a dwindling water supply that’s only going to shrink in the coming summer heat.

Image credits: 1) Flickr/Marufish 2) Flickr/Tim J Keegan 3) Flickr/Armin Vogel

Scott Huntington is a writer and blogger. Follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington

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