There Is No Drought in California
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 by Jon Burras
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"Global warming, looming water shortages, farmers unable to grow crops"

        These are the often heard headlines that shower the front pages of the newspapers and clamor for our attention in the nightly television news reporting. We are bombarded with images of lakes and reservoirs drying up and dusty farm acreage left fallow. Home owners are mandated to only water their lawns on a restricted schedule and are not allowed to wash down their driveways. Car washing is restricted and the filling of swimming pools in certain areas has been banned.
        With these images in our minds and water restriction policies in place it is no wonder that we all believe that there is a drought in California. But the reality is that we do not have a lack of water; we have a lack of leadership. There is plenty of water in California and what is missing is the visionary guidance on how to use the water and to get the most out of every drop.
        One needs to look at the water strategies of other nations to comprehend the foolishness that we are engaged in. For instance, a nation like Saudi Arabia has no rivers or lakes but acquires all of its fresh water from desalination plants placed along its coast. By heating and distilling salt water this nation is able to provide enough water for all of its inhabitants.
        Israel is another good model to look at. At one time Israel struggled with trying to provide enough water for its people in this land that is primarily a desert. Today Israel has so much water that it actually exports water to other countries. How did Israel achieve this success? It was through leadership and long-term planning that water sustainability was achieved. Israel has made it mandatory to use drip irrigation in its farming practices. Fields are not flooded with water but each plant receives a carefully calculated dripping of water. This practice alone saves millions of gallons of water.
        In addition, water canals are covered with solar panels. This technique not only keeps the water from evaporating in the hot sun but also produces a constant stream of electricity. Home owners will often have water collection systems that gather the rain water falling onto the roof of their house. This water can be used for all purposes from bathing, flushing toilets and watering of plants.
        Now let's look at California's water strategy. We have a system that relies on the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountains and long canals and rivers to transport water from north to south and from the Colorado River to Southern California. When these sources dry up the twenty-three million residences in Southern California will suffer. The whole notion that a desert Mediterranean region like Southern California even exists is a mind blowing one. William Mulholland in the 1920's created a visionary project to acquire water from Mono Lake and the Owens River in the north east part of the state and transported it to Southern California. Without this water supply Los Angeles and other cities could not exist. We are at the mercy of imported water.
        Eighty-percent of the water utilized in California is used in agriculture. It is in the farm fields where most of the water is wasted. Farming practices like flooding of fields and growing high water consuming crops like cotton and rice waste tremendous amounts of water. An enormous amount of water could be saved if we had a drip irrigation policy like in Israel. We also grow many cash crops like strawberries, oranges and lemons. These crops are not staples but are used for profit and export. These crops and other heavy water using crops could be eliminated. Nobody died because they could not have their strawberries on their morning cereal or their glass of orange juice.
        California also has large herds of cattle to be slaughtered for beef consumption. According to Stanford Professors Paul R. and Anne H. Ehrlich in their book Population, Resources, Environment, between 2500 and 6000 gallons of water is required to produce one pound of beef. Maybe it is time that we all became vegetarians!
        Desalination plants are very effective in producing fresh water from the sea. Currently California has three of these plants (only two are currently operational). The nation's largest desalination plant has just opened in San Diego and will provide six-percent of San Diego's water. Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles has its own water desalination plant that provides fresh water to its residences, hotels and boating population. Why do we not have more of these plants? Politics! It seems that we would rather spend billions of dollars trying to find one drop of water on the planet Mars rather than create a sustainable long-term water strategy here on Earth.
        Right now Governor Brown of California should be mandating the building of twenty to thirty new state of the art desalination plants. When you incorporate this technology into existing electricity generating plants you can utilize the waste heat that normally goes up the smoke stack to distill the salt water into fresh water. For instance, there are twelve existing electrical generating power plants in Huntington Beach, California that could supply the necessary heat to produce fresh water without having to waste any more fossil fuels. Companies have even developed micro desalination plants using solar power to produce fresh water from waste water. This proven technology of using solar power to turn salt water or waste water into usable fresh drinking water is already in place on a small scale and is environmentally friendly and extremely efficient. Companies like WaterFX are using a high pressure reverse osmosis solar powered system to reclaim used salt brine water and turn it into fresh water.
        Why are we not utilizing this technology? Instead we are pushing full steam ahead on a high speed rail system in California that nobody wants or needs with the cost expected to exceed up to 60 billion dollars and it will never make a profit. This boondoggle of a train project will require continuous government subsidies to keep it in business. Why is that money not being used on projects like desalination rather than a designer project that is a waste of tax payer dollars?
       We have a system in place where the water companies want you to believe that we need them. Why is it not mandatory that every home have its own solar panels and water run-off collection system? Decentralizing the water delivery system will give power back to the people. Interestingly, in some places it is illegal to collect water from your own rooftop. (See resources). Laws have been passed that declare this water to be public water and the water company owns it. Water companies, like electric power companies, want you to need them. They do not want you to have a well in your own back yard or collect your own roof top rainwater. They would rather build expensive dams and rivers systems to pump water to you where they can charge you enormous amounts of money and take in tremendous profits. We have see this same centralized strategy in other countries. Multi-national corporations are granted the water rights in a certain country. Instead of localized delivery by drilling a well in each small village, these corporations would rather build an expensive system of dams and canals to pump the water to each village, thus reaping huge profits.
        There have been many ambitious projects over the course of our history. These projects range from building the railroads across the country to implementing a series of dams and hydroelectric power plants. It was the United States and other countries who completed the Panama Canal under the harshest of conditions. Why can't we take that same American spirit and construct a canal from the Midwest to the West. It seems that every spring there is an abundance of water in the Midwest. The Mississippi river overflows its banks flooding homes, businesses and farmland. Why not channel some of that excess water to the West where it is needed most?
        Uncontrolled building has led to much of this water shortage as well. City building commissions rarely put a hold on new permits to build housing tracks, malls and business parks. If you have lived in an area for thirty-years or more you are now competing with your brand new neighbors for the same water usage. There is no "grandfather clause" or "I was here first" amendment. Your new neighbors are taking water that was once yours because we do not have moratoriums on building. My proposal is that we should have a seniority system. Everyone is assigned a number based on how long their home or business has existed. When the drought becomes even worse water should be turned off starting with the newest homes and businesses. This would send a message that you might be able to build here; however you are last in line for water when it gets in short supply. That is the only fair way.
        When it rains in Southern California most of the water runs off into channels and out to the ocean. Why are we not collecting this water? What would happen if we drilled thousands of deep holes in these river channels and filled them with sand. When a storm dropped large amounts of water this run-off would seep deep into the ground water where it could be pumped back out for our use later on.
        The type of landscaping we are using is also very wasteful. We have large lawns of green grass that require vast amounts of water. We surround ourselves with golf courses that are water pits. For instance, in the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs there are currently ninety-one golf course. This is one of the hottest and driest places on the planet where evaporation is very high. Why are we still building an oasis of water sucking landscape in a desert area?
        Recycling of used water is another way that countries like Israel have become water efficient. While we do recycle some of our waste water there is along way to go. Technology is so advanced that sewage water can be turned back into fresh drinking water. While this might not bode well for some water consumers to think that the water that is coming out of their kitchen faucet today was yesterday's toilet water, recycling of water is a reality and a necessity in drought areas. We currently have the technology to do this.
        The transport of water up and down the state is extremely wasteful. First off, seventy-percent of the electricity generated in California is used to pump water to Southern California. The water canals are left uncovered for vast amounts of water to evaporate. Why don't we follow the example of Israel and cover these canals with solar panels to first, produce electricity and second, to keep the water from evaporating?
        You see, there is no drought in California. We have a drought of visionary leadership, from the governor to the city leaders. Water officials and politicians seem oblivious to some simple solutions. There is plenty of water available. What is missing is water vision. While William Mulholland might have been a visionary some ninety-years ago by bringing water to Southern California, he created an unnatural system that is unsustainable. He never imagined that global climate change would occur or that weather patterns would change. It seems that we are in a wait and see stage right now. Let's wait and see if things get worse rather than take proactive steps to do something about it now.
        We have fallen away from natural principles with our inappropriate landscaping, poor crop growing practices and centralized view of water dependence. We are stuck in a belief of centralized thinking where we are taught to believe that we are dependent on a water delivery company. We are wasteful and glutinous when it comes to our precious liquid life we call water. We are ignoring simple solutions and do not have long-term vision.
        Water is too valuable to ignore. With the right vision and leadership we can make dramatic changes in our future. In the meantime, we might as well collectively put on our eagle feathers and moccasins and participate in a rain dance. You will have more chance of success with a rain dance than with our current water policy or of finding visionary leadership.
It is illegal to collect rainwater.
Solar water desalination systems: WaterFX.co
Population, Resources, Environment
Paul R. and Anne H. Ehrlich