“I’m not going to stop watering,”
April 5, 2015 12:44 PM   Subscribe

California Drought Tests History of Endless Growth [New York Times]
A punishing drought is forcing a reconsideration of whether the aspiration of untrammeled growth that has for so long been the state’s engine has run against the limits of nature.
California Water Use [New York Times] Are you affected? [New York Times] The Drought, explained. [New York Times Video]

Related:

- Watch Almonds Suck California Dry: Photographer Matt Black highlights the stories behind California's nut boom—in the midst of an epic drought. [Mother Jones]
- California's Almonds Suck as Much Water Annually as Los Angeles Uses in Three Years [Mother Jones]:
"California's worst drought on record isn't stopping the state from growing massive amounts of nuts: The state produces over 80 percent of the world's almonds and 43 and 28 percent of the world's pistachios and walnuts, respectively. As Mother Jones' Tom Philpott details in this longread, the state's almond market in particular has taken off: What was a $1.2 billion market in 2002 became $4.8 billion market by 2012."
- Cut and dried: Civilians will bear the brunt of new water restrictions, though it is the farms that use the most. [The Economist]:
"This week, for the first time in its history, the Golden State imposed mandatory restrictions on water use. The measure follows four years of severe drought and its lowest ever recorded winter snowpack. On Wednesday Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order imposing a 25% reduction on the state’s 400 local water supply agencies over the coming year. Those local agencies serve 90% of California residents. They will be responsible for figuring out how to cut back actual water usage, but it is clear that communities that have successfully reduced water usage in recent years—such as Los Angeles County—will have less to do than cities that have been more relaxed about abating water consumption."
- How Growers Gamed California’s Drought [Daily Beast]:
"“I’ve been smiling all the way to the bank,” said pistachio farmer John Dean at a conference hosted this month by Paramount Farms, the mega-operation owned by Stewart Resnick, a Beverly Hills billionaire known for his sprawling agricultural holdings, controversial water dealings, and millions of dollars in campaign contributions to high-powered California politicians including Governor Jerry Brown, former governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis, and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein."
- California drought: governor tells climate-change deniers to wake up. [The Guardian]:
"“With the weather that’s happening in California, climate change is not a hoax,” Brown said, on ABC news. “We’re dealing with it, and it’s damn serious.”"
- This Is How Much Water It Takes To Make Your Favorite Foods [Huffington Post]:
"Extensive drought has Californians thinking twice about running the tap while brushing their teeth or taking that 20-minute shower. But what some people don't realize is that a huge portion of our water footprint is "hidden," meaning it's used for the things we eat or wear, and for the energy we use. Globally, agricultural production accounts for 92 percent of our water footprint. In the United States, meat consumption alone accounts for a whopping 30 percent of our water footprint."
posted by Fizz (168 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
 


the state’s engine has run against the limits of nature.

They did that when they built the aqueducts in the first place. It's just been a matter of waiting, this drought would have screwed the farmers with or without increased urban use.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:05 PM on April 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is the sort of thing that could trigger a secession of Northern California from Southern California.
posted by Renoroc at 1:06 PM on April 5, 2015


It is insane that there's a 25% cut being imposed on cities and individuals while agriculture skates by.

Cadillac Desert is a good read on this kind of stuff, but is a little dated by now. Anyone know if someone has written something looking at the same issues more recently?
posted by Aizkolari at 1:10 PM on April 5, 2015 [16 favorites]


On Wednesday Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order imposing a 25% reduction on the state’s 400 local water supply agencies over the coming year. Those local agencies serve 90% of California residents.

....and cover about 20% of the State's actual water usage.

It's as if, having been recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, the patient has been given a Band-Aid for his skinned knees.
posted by Frayed Knot at 1:13 PM on April 5, 2015 [17 favorites]


I've been puzzling over the question of agricultural use too. California drought: Why mandatory cuts didn’t hit farms gives some perspective. Basically farmers are already suffering mandatory water cuts because surface water is simply not being supplied to them. (Coincidentally, about a 25% cut last year.) I'm not sure I think it's a full justification for why there are no agricultural cuts in the new rules, but the government process makes more sense to me now.
posted by Nelson at 1:17 PM on April 5, 2015 [14 favorites]


Other concerns are: water from the Colorado river and the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The former impacts not only Arizona residents, but Mexico. At one point the estuary into the Gulf of California had turned into a mud flat, and farmers on the downstream end of the river were being ruined. The other impacts everyone living on the eastern face of the Sierra Nevada mountains. This is especially ironic, in that California water usage was the basis for riparian laws put in place at the end of the 19th Century: you have to consider the downstream usage of any stream or river. Adding insult to this injury is that this water supports Los Angeles in various ways.

I was living in central California in the 80's, when the land-use priority in Fresno County shifted from agriculture to urban/suburban development. An acre of houses was more productive of tax dollars, went the logic, than an acre of grapes. This came after two of the deep-water aquifers that supported the city of Fresno were closed because of contamination by defoliants and insecticides. The water from the San Joaquin, Kings, and Kern Rivers no longer reached its outlet in San Francisco Bay during the driest parts of the year, and the San Joaguin and Kings Rivers went completely dry by the time they hit the central valley. This is all the more significant if you realize that boats used to travel to within a few miles of Fresno during the high water seasons, as late as the early 1900's.

Water from the Sierras is transported to the Los Angeles area via two major canals, one on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley, and one along the eastern flank of the coastal mountain range. Water is pumped over the transvers range and into LA's reservoirs. This water was originally tapped with the understanding that it would support the agricultural industry in the San Joaquin Valley. The coastal canal was earmarked for the growers on the west side of the valley, where it transformed what was basically an alkali-laden desert into some of the best truck crop fields in the world.

Now the war is between the revenue generated by agriculture and that which comes from residences. My guess would be that the residences will prevail. You can generate a service society to account for jobs, and buy food from, say, Colombia, but you can't stop the requirements of an ever expanding population. We don't try to control population growth. I guess that's because capitalism needs an ever-expanding consumer base, and we simply will do whatever it takes to "preserve our way of life," which means of course, whatever the corporate entities require.

See Tucson, as an example of a city thriving without a major river.
posted by mule98J at 1:20 PM on April 5, 2015 [20 favorites]


It's as if, having been recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, the patient has been given a Band-Aid for his skinned knees.

That's what I find so stunning and so utterly horrifying about this. California (and the southwestern states more generally) are facing a near-term and long-term catastrophe that has prompted essentially no meaningful response from anyone. It's like a deleted scene from The Sheep Look Up.

I don't even know that this is even properly described as a drought: isn't this more like a return to historical norms? California had over-allocated its water even if the wet years had never ended, as they had to eventually.
posted by gerryblog at 1:22 PM on April 5, 2015 [11 favorites]




I already cut our water use by 30%, last year.

Where I live, the local water company had to raise rates (before the drought) because it’s revenues were coming in low due to customer’s reduced demand for water.

My typical water bill is 75-80% fees and taxes, 20-25%, for the actual water supplied.
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 1:23 PM on April 5, 2015




Oh good. They've been "called out." That will change everything. To Twitter!
posted by rr at 1:30 PM on April 5, 2015 [32 favorites]


When I read the Mother Jones article on almonds and water consumption it had me rethinking whether or not I should even purchase almonds. Is it ecologically responsible to support that industry when it is wreaking such havoc on the local environment? I realize its more complicated than just choosing to not buy almonds but so much waste, it boggles my mind.
posted by Fizz at 1:42 PM on April 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


An earlier comment stated the residential water usage as 20%. That figure is outdated, it is currently 10-15%, trending toward the lower figure. The lower numbers are not a consequence of the drought, the residential percentage has been in steady decline for a decade. The new measures apply only to residential users the other 90-85% is unfettered. The biggest chunk being Agricultural usage. It is noteworthy that many ranchers getting water from the state resources agreed not to water perennials (e.g. orchards) with the water and promptly violated the agreement without penalty. It is also noteworthy that the state cannot control groundwater usage as it is delegated to the lowest local authorities.
posted by shnarg at 1:46 PM on April 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


If it curbs the sales of those piss-poor excuses for pistachios that come out of the state, good. Nothing like a handful of fresh-roasted Akbari nuts, om nom nom.
posted by scruss at 1:47 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


As always, the New York Times is willfully, almost gleefully, out of touch with things in California. Pretty much everyone in local media has already done a complete deconstruction of that article, so I won't bother.

And no, Northern California is not going to "secede," because the farms in Northern, or at least Middle, California, are what is using all the water.

We all saw "Chinatown," and we all know the silly cliches about how awful L.A. is, and yes, L.A. uses water from the aqueduct. But it's a tiny drop in the bucket compared to agriculture. There's a big new desalinization plant coming online near San Diego, and as tech gets better, those will probably be the way to go for the big coastal cities.

The drought is bad, for sure, but I don't think the sort of Biblical punishment for being Hollywood phonies or whatever that East Coasters are fantasizing about is going to happen. In the worst case, California will either use its massive economic power to import water from elsewhere, or grow less water-hogging crops.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:50 PM on April 5, 2015 [40 favorites]


From the article linked upthread about fracking waste-water being injected into clean aquifers:

“It’s inexcusable,” said Hollin Kretzmann, at the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco. “At (a) time when California is experiencing one of the worst droughts in history, we’re allowing oil companies to contaminate what could otherwise be very useful ground water resources for irrigation and for drinking. It’s possible these aquifers are now contaminated irreparably.”

...holy shit. It's not just shocking but cognitively disorienting that Californians aren't tarring and feathering their elected officials over this utter abomination. Good lord.
posted by clockzero at 2:02 PM on April 5, 2015 [36 favorites]


One angle of this that doesn't get enough play is the water rights issue. How exactly did we arrive in this circumstance? Why are people allowed to use water so wastefully and without any oversight? A big part of the answer is that the way the rights to that water are distributed is insane. Senior water rights can trace back the days when this was considered part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain and grant the holder the right to effectively use as much water as they can, for whatever purpose they like, without any oversight or approval. This obviously has to change, but the question is how can it change? California probably can't afford to buy these rights back, so is there a legal means to take them? What would that entail?

I like the framing of this situation as the harsh facing up to the reality that perpetual growth is not possible in a closed system. There are many terrible aspects of this: for example, what happens to all of the wealth created by the massive increases in prices over the past decade when those prices are no longer sustainable? That money is partially what has served to keep us afloat economically over that time.
posted by feloniousmonk at 2:05 PM on April 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


> Pretty much everyone in local media has already done a complete deconstruction of that article, so I won't bother.

Would you care to link to one or two of what you consider the better deconstructions for the benefit of us yokels who don't live where you do?
posted by languagehat at 2:08 PM on April 5, 2015 [27 favorites]


Seem to have lost a word there, should read "...massive increase in housing prices over the past decade..."
posted by feloniousmonk at 2:15 PM on April 5, 2015




or grow less water-hogging crops.

Hell, simply eliminating rice and alfalfa would be a big step. The latter being mostly used as cattle feed.
posted by Justinian at 2:23 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Water rights are just weird, not only in CA, but around the globe, resulting in all kinds of market distortions with unintentional (an occasionally very intentional) consequences.

This post from a couple weeks back puts some link together with an interesting perspective that doesn't rely on the "California's finally doomed" selling point. As usual, the issue is annoyingly complicated for us tl;dr folks.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:29 PM on April 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Hell, simply eliminating rice and alfalfa would be a big step.

I'm 100% with you on the alfalfa, but my understanding is that while rice grows in a lot of water, but doesn't consume that much, so it ends up draining back into the San Joaquin River and eventually the Bay. Plus, I think that birds in the Pacific Flyway have come to depend on the rice paddies during migrations, since so much other riparian and marsh habitat is gone.
posted by Aizkolari at 2:38 PM on April 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


Jerry Brown should have done this during his first term in office. It would have been seen as typical Governor Moonbeam, but at least it would have spared California from 35 years of driveway-washing and related aspirational rituals.
posted by grounded at 2:42 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Aizkolari: Rice uses less water per serving than things like almonds (though still quite a lot of water) but the sheer amount of rice being grown means it is so far as I am aware the second largest water use after alfalfa.

I'm all for restricting almonds too, though.

That said; Alfalfa, pasturing, and other uses associated with cattle are several multiples the next largest water use. If we're serious about water we should grossly restrict the number of cattle that can be raised in California. Until that happens we aren't serious. Watering golf courses makes headlines but it means nothing.
posted by Justinian at 2:43 PM on April 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


California probably can't afford to buy these rights back, so is there a legal means to take them? What would that entail?

Forgive my intemperate words, but why care about legality and money when one of the greatest states in the union is facing an existential threat caused by irrational overcomsumption and insufficient regulation? The state government needs to step in and unilaterally do at least three things, I think:

1. Raise the price of water. It's extremely cheap, so raising the price a bit wouldn't substantially hurt regular citizens but would force businesses to conserve, using the only thing they understand: profit and expense.

2. Mandate that all growers of crops must meet new efficiency standards within a year, with maybe some bullshit subsidies for upgrading equipment to sweeten the deal a bit. Farmers in California mostly don't take advantage of more efficient ways of growing crops, like drip-irrigation.

3. Ban fracking in California, ban anyone except state-operated utilities from laying a finger on any and all aquifers or other bodies of water in the state, and stipulate that California's water can only be sold directly by public utilities to consumers and agricultural producers -- that's it.

California is in serious trouble. This is exactly the kind of problem that the market can't solve, and it's also not-coincidentally the kind of problem that states alone have the moral and legal standing to fix, and to hell with the selfish shit-for-brains types who would complain about the government forcing rationality upon the situation. They would just relocate agricultural endeavors after California's sucked dry anyway.
posted by clockzero at 2:45 PM on April 5, 2015 [24 favorites]


Yes, apparently if you're not from California or no longer from there, you can just go find all of that awesomely deconstructive "local media" by yourself.
posted by blucevalo at 2:46 PM on April 5, 2015


California Drought: Bay Area loses billions of gallons to leaky pipes
As Bay Area residents struggle to save water during a historic drought, the region's water providers have been losing about 23 billion gallons a year, a new analysis of state records reveals.

Aging and broken pipes, usually underground and out of sight, have leaked enough water annually to submerge the whole of Manhattan by 5 feet -- enough to meet the needs of 71,000 families for an entire year.

Bay Area water agencies have lost from 3 to 16 percent of their treated water, according to this newspaper's analysis of the latest reports on water that disappears before the meter. The figures are especially irritating for residents who are being forced to cut up to 20 percent of their water use and contend with the first-ever statewide restrictions on outdoor watering.
posted by jaguar at 2:53 PM on April 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Bay Area water agencies have lost from 3 to 16 percent of their treated water, according to this newspaper's analysis of the latest reports on water that disappears before the meter. The figures are especially irritating for residents who are being forced to cut up to 20 percent of their water use and contend with the first-ever statewide restrictions on outdoor watering.

I totally agree that the state agencies should be more efficient, but considering the tone of this piece (e.g., the somewhat gratuitous use of "force" to refer to a legitimate government mandate), the article headline and the region we're talking about, I think I smell calls for privatization in the name of efficiency.
posted by clockzero at 3:04 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


The writer was on the local NPR station and seemed to be calling for more (or any) government oversight on water, rather than privatization of the utility, but I was driving and so wasn't paying 100% attention.
posted by jaguar at 3:15 PM on April 5, 2015


When I read the Mother Jones article on almonds and water consumption it had me rethinking whether or not I should even purchase almonds. Is it ecologically responsible to support that industry when it is wreaking such havoc on the local environment?

As an former Californian (who hasn't lived there for almost a decade and is happily ensconced in the Northeast), what often somewhat rankles me about threads like this is that sentiments like the one expressed above are so rarely expressed.

"California produces a sizable majority of many American fruits, vegetables, and nuts: 99 percent of artichokes, 99 percent of walnuts, 97 percent of kiwis, 97 percent of plums, 95 percent of celery, 95 percent of garlic, 89 percent of cauliflower, 71 percent of spinach, and 69 percent of carrots (and the list goes on and on)."

I know that big agriculture in California has a lot of indefensible water habits. But it's not like agriculture in the Central Valley is irrigating crops for shits and giggles, and the state of California is certainly not consuming 100% of those artichokes and walnuts and kiwis and celery that it's growing.
posted by andrewesque at 3:17 PM on April 5, 2015 [34 favorites]


And to be clear, I'm not trying to assign some kind of "collective guilt" or anything like that for California's water usage practices to the rest of the country. I just think there's a weird disconnect between talking about California agriculture's water practices and the products that it enables.
posted by andrewesque at 3:21 PM on April 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


"California produces a sizable majority of many American fruits, vegetables, and nuts

a lot of those were and could be grown somewhere else, even in the u s - yes, it might take time, but it could be done
posted by pyramid termite at 3:26 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Forgive my intemperate words, but why care about legality and money when one of the greatest states in the union is facing an existential threat caused by irrational overcomsumption and insufficient regulation?

What I was getting at there is that I have serious doubts as to whether this could really be accomplished. Where does the authority to upend the current rights system come from and then how many decades will it spend in court? Assuming you get through that, where does the money to pay for it come from? It'd have to be a state wide ballot measure and it would probably be a record-breaking political fight, passage would not be a sure thing. The present rights holders are not going to go meekly. I don't think Gov. Brown et al haven't moved on these issues due to ignorance. There's no practical way to avoid caring about legality and money here.

Banning fracking is another matter and seems like an obvious move.
posted by feloniousmonk at 3:28 PM on April 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Wherein tedious moralizing replaces criticism of political economy. Yes, we just need to give up lawns and stop eating almonds. That'll do it.
posted by wuwei at 3:29 PM on April 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Almost half of the average Californian's water footprint is due to consumption of meat and dairy":

Despite their hashtag #EveryDropCounts, their water-saving tips focus only on household use, which accounts for 4% of California's water footprint. But a whopping 47% of drought-stricken California’s water footprint is associated with meat and dairy products, per Pacific Institute's 2012 report California's Water Footprint. "Almost half of the average Californian’s water footprint is associated with the consumption of meat and dairy products." Their report also clearly shows that animal feed has the greatest water requirement of any crop in California, far more than almonds and avocados, as well as any other human use.
posted by Gymnopedist at 3:37 PM on April 5, 2015 [18 favorites]


Why do we consider this California's problem and not our problem? Why are greywater systems for toilets and carwashes; or xeriscaping; or lowflow showers; or water and refills only on request in restaurants being heavily promoted or made mandatory everywhere? Why is waste so fucking ingrained in the American habit?

I'm suspect there are some crops we might need California to abandon and certainly Palm Springs should not be covered in lush green lawns, but the habits, tastes and demands of the nation need to change. This is really some scary stuff.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:43 PM on April 5, 2015 [27 favorites]


Cadillac Desert is a good read on this kind of stuff, but is a little dated by now. Anyone know if someone has written something looking at the same issues more recently?

More recent and recommended: Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West, by James Lawrence Powell, and A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest, by William deBuys.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 3:47 PM on April 5, 2015 [17 favorites]


And no, Northern California is not going to "secede," because the farms in Northern, or at least Middle, California, are what is using all the water.

I'm from Northern California (like, real, actual, North-of-Sacramento Northern California), and when people talk about Northern California secession, they are generally talking about far-north snow- and lake-reservoir counties (Siskiyou, Modoc, etc) seceding so that they can negotiate more preferential water deals with both farmers and urban users. People who live in the mountainous regions of California are actually very aware of how much water is demanded by California agriculture - they can literally watch it pouring out of their reservoirs.

a lot of those were and could be grown somewhere else, even in the u s - yes, it might take time, but it could be done

I think it's a bit facile to just declare that we can find somewhere else to replace America's fruit basket. Of course Climate Change is not just affecting California - it's affecting many, many places that were formerly perfect for farming. We can't personal-decision our way out of this, not even farmers.
posted by muddgirl at 3:57 PM on April 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


The reason California produces so much produce is because it's cheaper to grow there than elsewhere, not because it's impossible to grow elsewhere. Lots of crops (including wine grapes) that are today grown almost exclusively in California used to be grown in various parts of the East and Midwest. They don't grow them there right now because growing corn is more profitable, but if the prices increased they doubtless would so again.

The implied threat by California farmers that if they don't get water, the country won't get salad is an empty one, at least on the scale of more than one season. The price of produce might go up, as will meat and corn as a result of displacement, but that seems basically inevitable and in the longer run might actually not be bad, given the horrendous environmental (and arguably, public health) costs of our "cheap food / cheap meat" policy over the past few decades.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:03 PM on April 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


What I was getting at there is that I have serious doubts as to whether this could really be accomplished. Where does the authority to upend the current rights system come from and then how many decades will it spend in court? Assuming you get through that, where does the money to pay for it come from? It'd have to be a state wide ballot measure and it would probably be a record-breaking political fight, passage would not be a sure thing. The present rights holders are not going to go meekly. I don't think Gov. Brown et al haven't moved on these issues due to ignorance. There's no practical way to avoid caring about legality and money here.

Declaring states of mere economic emergency is sufficient to unilaterally deprive the public of things like control over democratic civic institutions or to privatize schools, why shouldn't more concrete emergencies suffice to accomplish what is, let's not forget, ultimately the only rational course of action? Namely, responsible stewardship of natural resources?

I admit that I'm not an expert on the California state government or what is, assuredly, its complex system of water access agreements and procedures. But this is very clearly the sort of historical moment in which bold change is not just right, but necessary. To analogize, this isn't like telling a mostly-healthy patient to avoid risky behaviors; it's like putting a goddamn tourniquet on the arm of someone who's rapidly bleeding to death.

Ultimately, legal rights and politics are secondary here. If there was will to do so, the National Guard could shut down any aquifer access operations and the courts could dismiss lawsuits challenging state actions in this regard. I mean, considering the many, many, MANY exceptions to basic Constitutional freedoms and rights that are taken on a daily basis, or on an incidental basis (e.g., suspending habeas corpus during the Civil War), it would be both naive and ill-informed to claim that "we can't just do that". Sure we can. This is America, for Chrissakes. Our only hope of a claim to moral virtue is that we, historically and institutionally, sanction cutting Gordion knots of statecraft and jurisprudence when legal regimes aren't in step with what's right and what's necessary. We've rarely lived up to that promise, but this would be a great time to try. Let the corporate boot-lickers howl and whine about capital flight -- more opportunities for entrepreneurs. If we can't tackle this problem, the worst will really, actually come to pass.
posted by clockzero at 4:04 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Water rights (and water right law generally) can be readjudicated or rewritten, and that happens periodically. It's obviously a highly contentious process given the enormous sums of money involved, but in this area it happens every 40 years or so. Similarly, water rights are affected by national laws and court cases, notably by Clean Water Act and ESA issues. They are not some kind of static, unchanging license to pump water, though they get talked about that way.

Whether or not there would be the political will to rewrite water law in California is a very different question, given the political dysfunction visible in other processes there. And doing so in a hurry without carefully considering the unintended consequences of large changes could be catastrophic.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:10 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I live in the far reaches of the SF Bay Area in what could be termed the Delta, or "Central Valley Lite." I have no lawn and have planted all native low water need plants.

As I cycle through my city I find I am a rare rare person. There are green lawns everywhere. It's just crazy. We live in a near desert during a drought, and the average smo doesn't care.

We are screwed. And I'm sure when serious cuts come they will be based on a percentage of what we used before, screwing those who make cuts already.
posted by cccorlew at 4:15 PM on April 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


clockzero has it right, up-thread. Most economists see excessive water use as a negative externality. The very simple solution is to increase the price until the negative impact has been accounted for. In this case, that means until we are in balance with nature or until other sources of water (desalination plants, aqueducts, rain catchment systems) pay for themselves.

The beauty of this is that the economics will nudge people toward the right behavior. Farmers would tend to pick crops that require less water, homeowners would refill their pools less often, golf course owners would water their grass less. At water currently priced at less than a penny per gallon, there is scope for large price increases before anyone would go thirsty.

A simple economic solution, straight out of the textbook. Not so simple politically, however...
posted by Triplanetary at 4:16 PM on April 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Water rights (and water right law generally) can be readjudicated or rewritten, and that happens periodically. It's obviously a highly contentious process given the enormous sums of money involved, but in this area it happens every 40 years or so.

Some of the underlying assumptions around water allocation are kind of...terribly wrong, though. The Colorado River Compact of 1922, for instance, reckons on an average river flow of 16.4 million acre-feet and divides that between the upper basin and lower basin, with the surplus going to Mexico. The only problem with that? The estimate was taken in an unusually wet year during an unusually wet period; long-term average flows are around 14.9 million acre-feet, and since 2000 the average flow has been 12.3 million acre-feet. This is why Lake Mead is running dry and why Lake Powell has a visible "bathtub ring". With declining average snowpack in the Rockies (the source of most of the Colorado's water) and depleting reservoirs, things are only going to get much worse...and there's not any political will to revisit the flawed agreement that the whole issue rests on.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 4:30 PM on April 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


Best article I've read so far on the crisis:

The California drought: Water-rationing plan leaves corporate interests untouched
Instead of adopting any sort of progressive policy to implement well-known, rational planning methods that would ensure the viability of California’s water supply for future generations, the existing political setup seeks to reduce the highly complex issue to merely punishing individual consumers.
...
There are immense efficiencies to be gained through the statewide adoption of crop-specific irrigation methods and other efficiency improvements. Yet any such rational reorganization is blocked by the interests of the US financial oligarchy, which, controlling the entire political system, will not abide any impingement on its profits.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 4:34 PM on April 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Analysis of per capita water usage data by urban water suppliers in California is here. Residential water use is already far below, for example, that of New York City.
posted by ajayb at 4:37 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


There are immense efficiencies to be gained through the statewide adoption of crop-specific irrigation methods and other efficiency improvements. Yet any such rational reorganization is blocked by the interests of the US financial oligarchy, which, controlling the entire political system, will not abide any impingement on its profits.

When do we get to the point of pulling them out of their beds in the middle of the night and asking them to explain to an angry mob, without their lawyers or the rest of the law enforcement system there to protect or speak for them, exactly why they get everything, forever, and we get the little crumbs they can't be bothered to defend?
posted by clockzero at 4:43 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


The drought is bad, for sure, but I don't think the sort of Biblical punishment for being Hollywood phonies or whatever that East Coasters are fantasizing about is going to happen.

Housing in the Boston area is already expensive enough, I'm definitely not fantasizing about techies fleeing here from silicon valley if the drought gets worse.
posted by A dead Quaker at 4:46 PM on April 5, 2015


When do we get to the point of pulling them out of their beds in the middle of the night and asking them to explain to an angry mob, without their lawyers or the rest of the law enforcement system there to protect or speak for them, exactly why they get everything, forever, and we get the little crumbs they can't be bothered to defend?

If history is any guide, that'll happen when the bourgeoisie begin to be seriously affected (most revolutions begin with the middle class, who tend to be too optimistic about their ability to rein in the proletariat after riling them up).
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 4:48 PM on April 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


a lot of those were and could be grown somewhere else, even in the u s - yes, it might take time, but it could be done

Lettuce and strawberries are perishable. They simply can't be stored long-term. And the list of places where you can grow lettuce in December is actually pretty small. California has a water problem but it's still better than most of the southern US.

Someone is eventually going to have to spend money on more efficient irrigation and water transport system is the real issue. No more flooding orchards. No more 500-mile-long open irrigation canals. It'll just be money in the end.
posted by GuyZero at 4:51 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


The reason California produces so much produce is because it's cheaper to grow there than elsewhere
Something to do with lowpaid immigrant / illegal workers maybe?
posted by adamvasco at 4:52 PM on April 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


When do we get to the point of pulling them out of their beds in the middle of the night and asking them to explain to an angry mob, without their lawyers or the rest of the law enforcement system there to protect or speak for them, exactly why they get everything, forever, and we get the little crumbs they can't be bothered to defend?

If history is any guide, that'll happen when the bourgeoisie begin to be seriously affected (most revolutions begin with the middle class, who tend to be too optimistic about their ability to rein in the proletariat after riling them up).


BINGO!
BINGO!
That was five! I call MetaFilter Bingo!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:08 PM on April 5, 2015 [20 favorites]


When do we get to the point of pulling them out of their beds in the middle of the night and asking them to explain to an angry mob, without their lawyers or the rest of the law enforcement system there to protect or speak for them, exactly why they get everything, forever, and we get the little crumbs they can't be bothered to defend?

When someone organizes a revolutionary movement that takes power. Otherwise the bourgeoisie remain in charge and we keep getting screwed.

I'm obviously not predicting a revolution will happen in California as a result of the water crisis. But there's a possibility for some serious social unrest -- if people can't afford drinking water, showers, or flushing their toilet, that is going to make a lot of people really angry and desperate. Sometimes positive political change springs out of those dynamics and sometimes it gets really ugly. It's hard to predict.

But when we've got an angry mob, and they don't have their lawyers or police anymore, we'll probably be well beyond the point of simply asking them questions.

(Pseudonymous Cognomen, the bourgeoisie was on the side of the revolutionaries in the French Revolution -- and in all pre-1848 revolutions -- so that's probably not the best parallel. Not to say other historical comparisons don't have flaws, but at least they don't have that mega-flaw.)
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 5:18 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


The reason California produces so much produce is because it's cheaper to grow there than elsewhere
Something to do with lowpaid immigrant / illegal workers maybe?
posted by adamvasco at 4:52 PM on April 5


Or, you know, good summers and mild winters across a giant pre-historic inland sea and freshwater lakes that was far from any Ice Age glaciation -- a geologic history that created rich soils and perfect farming conditions.

No, no, wait. It's all racism.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:18 PM on April 5, 2015 [28 favorites]


These solutions all sound like they could have done something ten years ago.

They're just fucked now, they're at the mercy of profit-making engine. And until the trees die, there's still profit there.
posted by Slackermagee at 5:27 PM on April 5, 2015


That was five! I call MetaFilter Bingo!

Damn it! All I needed was tumbrels.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 5:35 PM on April 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Best article I've read so far on the crisis:

The California drought: Water-rationing plan leaves corporate interests untouched
"

Really, you didn't find it hyperbolic and grasping, full of adjectives substituting for arguments? Even in lines like this: "On March 12, the leading bourgeois press outlet in the state, the Los Angeles Times"?

So, the fix for a lot of this actually is the groundwater controls that have been pushed back to 2022. California is, IIRC, the only state that doesn't control groundwater rights. Without having any legal basis for the first step of monitoring private usage of groundwater, the ability to effectively regulate it isn't there. Which makes the hue and cry here for some sort of bold seizure up to and including the National Guard a bit of a farce.

There's a ton of misinformation and dubious framing from all sides on this — for example, the references to "environmental" uses for water, which include things like letting the Yosemite falls flow or providing the negative pressure that maintains the Sacramento delta. But a lot of the "solutions" proffered here have more than a whiff of ipse dixit fantasy.
posted by klangklangston at 5:37 PM on April 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


This will give me the excuse I've been looking for to only drink Italian Pellegrino from Italy from now on.

But seriously folks, is this caused by man-made climate change or is there some other reason no one seems to be mentioning that part of the story?
posted by parallax at 5:43 PM on April 5, 2015


That was five! I call MetaFilter Bingo!

What impressive sophistication this evinces. It must be quite boring to suffer through the discourse of democracy for some people.
posted by clockzero at 5:44 PM on April 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


Without having any legal basis for the first step of monitoring private usage of groundwater, the ability to effectively regulate it isn't there. Which makes the hue and cry here for some sort of bold seizure up to and including the National Guard a bit of a farce.

Don't you think that the real farce here is that California doesn't monitor, let alone regulate private groundwater usage? The same California that produces an immense share of the nation's food and is now in the worst drought in history? To be clear, I don't think it would be wise or reasonable to deploy actual troops except as a last resort. But I think the government would not only be within its rights, but morally obliged to do so if corporate interests refused to be reasonable and get onboard with sustainability.
posted by clockzero at 5:49 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


clockzero, I see where Cool Papa is coming from. You ever notice how the right-wing always tries to pin the cause of any social ill on illegal immigrants? It's sort of the same on this site, people always try to connect everything to racism/sexism etc. And a lot of times they're right. But not all the time. And it's not even done in good faith; some people just want to posture and show that they're more enlightened and "caring" about things than you are. It's like ok, I get it, you went to college, great. But please keep in mind not everyone is privileged enough to go to a liberal arts school.
posted by MattMangels at 5:49 PM on April 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


is this caused by man-made climate change or is there some other reason no one seems to be mentioning that part of the story?

Yes and yes; climate change has reduced average snowfall in the Rockies (Rocky Mountain snowmelt feeds the Colorado River), and also the average snowfall over the Sierra Nevadas (a major water source for California). However the longterm historical climate average is much drier than the 20th century was.



"During the medieval period, there was over a century of drought in the Southwest and California. The past repeats itself," says Ingram, who is co-author of The West Without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climate Clues Tell Us About Tomorrow. Indeed, Ingram believes the 20th century may have been a wet anomaly.

"None of this should be a surprise to anybody," agrees Celeste Cantu, general manager for the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority. "California is acting like California, and most of California is arid." (Related: "Behind California's January Wildfires: Dry Conditions, Stubborn Weather Pattern.")

Unfortunately, she notes, most of the state's infrastructure was designed and built during the 20th century, when the climate was unusually wet compared to previous centuries. That hasn't set water management on the right course to deal with long periods of dryness in the future.
(more)

So climate change is a factor, but regional long-term climatic norms are much drier than anything people are used to.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 5:51 PM on April 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


But seriously folks, is this caused by man-made climate change or is there some other reason no one seems to be mentioning that part of the story?

it's my understanding that the 20th century was an unusually wet century for california and this may be a return to the norm - however, gov brown has mentioned that he thinks it's due to climate change

also lettuce and strawberries can be canned - not the most appealing thing, i'll admit
posted by pyramid termite at 5:51 PM on April 5, 2015


It's meat and dairy. If Californians gave up just 25% of their meat and dairy, that would save more water than eliminating the entire almond industry.

But Americans would never do that or even discuss doing that.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:54 PM on April 5, 2015 [14 favorites]


clockzero, I see where Cool Papa is coming from. You ever notice how the right-wing always tries to pin the cause of any social ill on illegal immigrants? It's sort of the same on this site, people always try to connect everything to racism/sexism etc.

It's not interesting or productive to whine passive-aggressively about how dumb and predictable the other members' thoughts and opinions are. It's trolling.
posted by clockzero at 5:56 PM on April 5, 2015 [15 favorites]


Really, you didn't find it hyperbolic and grasping, full of adjectives substituting for arguments? Even in lines like this: "On March 12, the leading bourgeois press outlet in the state, the Los Angeles Times"?

Wait, you think the San Jose Mercury News is the leading bourgeois press outlet in the state?

But seriously, the reason I recommend it is because it is one of the few articles I've read that acknowledges the different class interests at play. Most articles that cover this (and really, "hyperbolic and grasping" is more characteristic of the nigh-apocalyptic tone that infects a lot of environmental issues coverage) talk about how "we" need to reduce consumption or how "California" needs to do this or that. No. The first thing that needs to be recognized is that different parties are using water at vastly different rates (agriculture: 80% of California's water) for vastly different reasons and the monied interests get everything they want, basically. Any article that doesn't identify that reality is really getting off on the wrong foot.

But seriously folks, is this caused by man-made climate change or is there some other reason no one seems to be mentioning that part of the story?

The best analogy for determining whether climate change caused weather event X I've heard is that it's like asking if a baseball player's steroid use caused a particular home run. The answer is, it's impossible to determine with absolute certainty whether any particular home run was caused by steroid use, but the steroids probably make home runs more likely.

But actually, for California's drought, climate change -- that is, changes in weather patterns caused by human-induced carbon emissions -- is a small part of the story. Looking at the geological history, California has a history of both more volatile weather patterns than the rest of the country and long periods of drought before the industrial revolution. (On preview, see Pseudonymous Cognomen's comment.)

And, as I've mentioned above, different priorities in allocating scarce water resources (i.e. giving Big Agro and Big Fracking any water they want, for little cost, no matter how inefficiently it is used and no matter the effect on the rest of the state's population) is a HUGE part of the crisis.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 5:57 PM on April 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


The reason California produces so much produce is because it's cheaper to grow there than elsewhere

Something to do with lowpaid immigrant / illegal workers maybe?


Illegal immigrants have never been able to figure out how to cross the border out of California?

Or perhaps, a major reason California produces so much it it's artificially low cost of water.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:57 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Someone is eventually going to have to spend money on more efficient irrigation and water transport system is the real issue. No more flooding orchards. No more 500-mile-long open irrigation canals. It'll just be money in the end.

I've worked on a number of irrigation efficiency projects and have sat in on a lot of policy discussions on the topic. The science and engineering for irrigation efficiency is really good by now -- piping canals, switching farmers to center pivot or drip systems, etc -- but like with so many things the hard work is in the policy arena and in the more difficult science questions, and solving the follow-on issues is critical if you want to have a real impact.

First, under current western water law and the existing regulatory regime, it is very difficult to have those water savings stay in the river (if you are trying to help fish and other environmental issues) or to reach far downstream users, because more water left in the river means that junior water right holders immediately downstream (who were previously being shut off whenever the water levels dropped) simply pump more. If the river crosses a state line (not an issue with many California rivers, with some very important exceptions) it is almost impossible to protect those water savings into the next state, because crossing the state line means entering a different regulatory regime.

Second, surface water and wells are regulated separately, even though by now it is well understood that surface and subsurface water is connected. As water users shift to wells, there is an impact to surface waters and to downstream users, but that impact can be delayed in time and is currently very difficult to regulate. Modeling and understanding subsurface water is expensive and difficult, and most basins don't have good subsurface water information available, even if regulators were prepared to attempt to take the issue seriously.

Third, a lot of the inefficient irrigation practices have had the (totally unintended) effect of keeping shallow groundwater and aquifers recharged -- leaky canals and flood irrigation are terrible ways to irrigate, but are great for groundwater. Switching to efficient irrigation practices without reconnecting floodplains and historical sidechannels, which at this point have been largely protected by levees to allow additional farming or residential use, results in dropping water tables, which means unhappy people if they have wells, dried up springs, and dead vegetation that can no longer root to water. And since shallow groundwater usually returns to the river cooled by the flow underground, it can also mean higher river temperatures which creates issues for ESA-listed fish.

Fourth, efficient irrigation allows farmers to utilize every inch of their allotted water, since the water is now metered and controlled much more precisely. What that means in terms of crops and acreage depends on the situation, but the math of water savings is not nearly as simple as it looks. It allows much more intensive and scientific farming, which is probably overall a good thing, but the outcomes in terms of water savings are less clear.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:01 PM on April 5, 2015 [50 favorites]


I just got a NASA/JPL email (I'm on their mailing list) with satellite pictures showing that the snowpack in northern California this year is only 40% of what it was last year...which was an all-time record low. So...yikes.
posted by sexyrobot at 6:16 PM on April 5, 2015


It's not interesting or productive to whine passive-aggressively about how dumb and predictable the other members' thoughts and opinions are. It's trolling.

Tell you what: I'll stop pointing out shallow thinking when the pool gets more than ankle deep.

Someone upthread literally said California's water problem was population growth because capitalism requires an ever-expanding base of consumers.

If you can find a more cockamamie, conspiracy-minded, overheated, undergrad, navel-gazing, dorm-room-bowl-smoking, echo-chambery line of discourse, I'd like to see it. Because the only intelligent response is ridicule and laughter, and I've got way, way more quips than I know what to do with.

80 percent of California's water is sucked up by agriculture through an out-dated, arcane set of water rights laws that actively punish farmers who use less water by allocating them less water the following year. Every angle to attack that problem that doesn't start with "call your representative in Sacramento" is literally irrelevant.

Drought-tolerant landscaping? Please.

So let's all stop talking about beheading the French aristocracy and capturing the tools of production to create a workers paradise. It's dumb. And predictable.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:24 PM on April 5, 2015 [19 favorites]


I've got to say, I worry a little bit about rises in the price of water for private citizens. I keep seeing "oh la la it's so cheap that the price could double and no one would care", which is probably true for middle class people. But I know, from public health stuff, that a switch to a $1 co-pay (from zero) for low income communities where people have subsidized care is enough to get people going off their meds. Seemingly very, very small amounts can break families that are just getting by. I would really dislike to see a rise in water prices that came without a waiver for people making below a certain amount.
posted by Frowner at 6:26 PM on April 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


80 percent of California's water is sucked up by agriculture through an out-dated, arcane set of water rights laws that actively punish farmers who use less water by allocating them less water the following year.

The normal forfeiture period is five years (within which you need to exercise the water right); there is almost no enforcement whatsoever; and there are ways to protect a water right for longer periods in many cases. The forfeiture period is that long because of crop rotations, where it is common to rotate a water intensive crop like alfalfa with much less water intensive crops, or to let fields lay fallow. In my experience farmers will fight tooth and nail to protect paper water rights (water that they don't actually use and can't actually pump because most basins are over allocated) which is of course exceedingly unhelpful in the process of trying to find better policy and implementation options.

I would really dislike to see a rise in water prices that came without a waiver for people making below a certain amount.

Residential water pricing is all over the map in the US. Most places do so in quite progressive ways and with basic service being effectively subsidized, but that varies a lot and I am sure the reverse is sometimes true. Quite a few municipalities don't meter residential use, which seems crazy but meters aren't free to install and sewer systems don't function unless enough water is being used, so there is a limit to how low cities want water use to dip.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:38 PM on April 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Tell you what:

This is kind of a crappy way to engage with a thread and it would help the goal of actual good discussion in here to just confine this sort of thing to an internal eye-roll instead of ongoing in-thread head-butting.
posted by cortex at 6:42 PM on April 5, 2015 [20 favorites]


let's all stop talking about beheading the French aristocracy and capturing the tools of production to create a workers paradise.

Except I wasn't talking about any of that; I was talking about the sort of economic conditions that foment revolutions. Which tend to be kind of historically consistent. (I used the Marxist terms "proletariat" and "bourgeoisie" because they're readily understood and commonly applied to such discourse, but I'm not advocating for a Marxist POV; the history of Marxist-inspired revolutions shows that the "dictatorship of the proletariat" tends to end up as a calcified oligarchy that's as bad as or worse than the system it replaced.) So your knee-jerk response is kind of a mote and beam thing, really.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 6:45 PM on April 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Headline from Canada:
"B.C. to charge up to $2.25 for bottling 1 million litres of groundwater"

The buyer is Nestle, and that price of $2.25 per million litres is up from $0, and doesn't take effect yet.
posted by wenat at 7:18 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm trying to convince him to get an account so he can talk to y'all on this thread ("You should read a metafilter thread so you can see what the smart people are saying about water! Do it for your book!"), but my dad writes about water a lot and has been saying a lot about California water in particular lately, including almonds. I'm biased in favor of thinking he's great because he's my dad, but seriously, if you find this stuff interesting you should go read his blog.
posted by NoraReed at 7:20 PM on April 5, 2015 [22 favorites]


Ultimately, legal rights and politics are secondary here.

And how do you propose to ignore those, without suspending the constitution? Government action outside the boundaries of the constitution has zero legitimacy.

It must be quite boring to suffer through the discourse of democracy for some people.

I think I just got whiplash.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:34 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


As I cycle through my city I find I am a rare rare person. There are green lawns everywhere. It's just crazy. We live in a near desert during a drought, and the average smo doesn't care.

The northern Delta is not a "near desert" - at least not normally. Sorry, I've just gotten irritated about this because I've heard too many people conflate all CA water issues with the infamous particularities of SoCal/southwest water use - "serves you right for trying to farm in a desert blah blah."
posted by atoxyl at 7:38 PM on April 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell: Someone upthread literally said California's water problem was population growth because capitalism requires an ever-expanding base of consumers.

No opinion on the capitalism part, but the population growth part is basically correct. It's a common phenomenon in the West where scarce water has been a property right for a long time: the right to use certain amounts of water from certain surface streams were written in the past when population, and consumption, was much lower.

Here in Montana, as population and economic growth increased water demand it also increased conflict—at the worst point one river had “315,456 miner’s inches [owned] when average river flow was 56,125 miner’s inches!” We eventually used our constitutional convention in the 1970's as an opportunity to create a whole system of water courts and enforcement to disentangle our water mess. (A process that's still not completed.)

Like air pollution, or really almost every other environmental problem ever, past lawful behavior turns out to have only been acceptable because its side-effects were too small to harm third parties. Population/economic growth increases those side-effects and makes previously nominal externalities more serious. A low-priority water right that could be fulfilled 9 years out of 10 for a century suddenly is completely dry 9/10 years. A stream that had always been cool enough for trout to live in is suddenly warming up in the summer and the fishing industry is getting mad.

So yeah, like an amplifier turning the smallest whisper into a squeal of feedback, growth causes small property conflicts to turn into big ones and makes Earth's water cycle a smaller and smaller pond for us bigger and bigger fishes.
posted by traveler_ at 7:43 PM on April 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


"Don't you think that the real farce here is that California doesn't monitor, let alone regulate private groundwater usage? The same California that produces an immense share of the nation's food and is now in the worst drought in history? To be clear, I don't think it would be wise or reasonable to deploy actual troops except as a last resort. But I think the government would not only be within its rights, but morally obliged to do so if corporate interests refused to be reasonable and get onboard with sustainability."

Not really. California not monitoring and regulating groundwater is a legacy of a bunch of historical factors combined with the fact that they've never really had any immediate need to do so before now. It's something that should have been done well before now, but the underlying land rights were set up to grandfather Spanish (and Mexican) land grants for cattle, and then the next big population boom was based on gold. The idea of irrigation on the level that it's currently practiced didn't enter the discussion of annexation, nor the California constitution.

So, not a farce. Pretty understandable institutional obliviousness that undercuts current governmental authority, making changes harder than they'd be otherwise, and constituting pretty clear-cut "takings" that need to be justified in order to make them legal.

From there, as alluded upthread, even monitoring groundwater and usage is really difficult, and creating the regulatory and enforcement power isn't as trivial as waiving your nationalization wand. You have to compensate people for the rights that they currently have if you want to abrogate them, and that's really expensive, particularly with commercial interests.


I'm trying to convince him to get an account so he can talk to y'all on this thread ("You should read a metafilter thread so you can see what the smart people are saying about water! Do it for your book!"), but my dad writes about water a lot and has been saying a lot about California water in particular lately, including almonds. I'm biased in favor of thinking he's great because he's my dad, but seriously, if you find this stuff interesting you should go read his blog."

That's great stuff! This in particular. But tons of interesting stuff there.
posted by klangklangston at 7:46 PM on April 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


And from that entry of his to this: 2015 Drought: A Preview is pretty good at illustrating why "widespread seizure" is catastrophizing.
posted by klangklangston at 7:51 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


The northern Delta is not a "near desert"

I meant to write "Delta/northern Central Valley" really. And of course if you go down to, say, Bakersfield there is plenty of farming in semi-arid conditions. But up here generally are the people who get upset about "their" water being piped southward.
posted by atoxyl at 8:24 PM on April 5, 2015


I was out in Davis/Woodland (major ag areas in central Cal) last weekend airbnb'ing at an outer suburban home and got friendly with the owner and eventually asked him how the drought was affecting him. He said that he had a well with a couple pumps at 180ft and 220ft and for the first time ever last year the pump at 180 ft went dry. He said that he doesn't think that the drought is as big a factor as the fact that farmers in the area are drilling ginormous wells and emptying the water table.
posted by telstar at 8:30 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


klangklangston: So, not a farce. Pretty understandable institutional obliviousness that undercuts current governmental authority, making changes harder than they'd be otherwise, and constituting pretty clear-cut "takings" that need to be justified in order to make them legal.

My understanding has been that combining water rights law and "takings" law creates one of the least clear-cut areas there is. Apparently Colorado didn't start regulating groundwater until 1957; I've been looking to find if they had to buy out grandfathered-in pseudorights or if there was a "takings" challenge or anything, haven't found anything yet, but in any case they were able to do it and relatively recently.

I haven't finished going through all of this but it says the Kansas Water Appropriation Act of 1945 switched from a riparian-style system to (Western-type) prior appropriation water rights, it was challenged as a "taking", and the Kansas Supreme Court found it wasn't in 1962. And, like I said, we in Montana did it in 1972 by constitutional convention. So hard, yes, but also possible. The advantage of California being late to the party is it has so many states' experiences to use as (counter)examples.
posted by traveler_ at 8:34 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


What's the saying? No-One Walks in LA.

What's the saying? In New England, they hide their wealth, in New York they wear it, in LA they drive it.

Here's the result: the RRR - the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. Apocalyptic climate change, here, now.

It's not the farmers' fault the snowpack hasn't come back. By reducing the need to use energy to freeze or ship (or even fly, in the case of some produce from Chile and New Zeland!) fruits, vegetables and nuts, they're doing more than their fair share to bring the snowpack back.

Instead of eviscerating the most productive and nutritionally signifiant agricultural region in the nation, how about we examine why we put up with unsupportable megalopolis sprawl in an arid semi-desert prone to centuries-long mega-droughts, and maybe encourage industry and population to move somewhere water isn't a problem for large scale cities? There are lots of places like that in the United States. There aren't a lot of places olives, almonds and year-round vegetables like to grow.

If it were cattle ranching or pig farming, I could almost be sympathetic to the "blame the produce!" angle. It's almonds, olives and fresh fruits and vegetables that are the "villains" here, so I really can't. More, with more typical weather patterns, or slower population growth, there would be no conflict between urban and agricultural water needs. If we have to choose between fresh food and Hollywood, almonds are more important for us as a nation. In the age of modern CGI, movies can be, and are, made everywhere.

You don't like it? Tough. Most of my hometown here in Southern New England will be underwater in a few decades, and we now have colder, snowier winters than most of southern Alaska. Hard changes are coming for us all. Maybe you should look more avidly into renewable energy and mass transit, being the eighth largest economy in the world and all? Too late now, but better late than never.

If you're an Angelino, it's not the farmers sucking your reservoirs dry. It's you sucking water from their wells and irrigation channels every time you start the car or flick on a light switch.

Starving the nation because a lot of people like the weather in SoCal isn't a good option.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:57 PM on April 5, 2015


The lesson of recent history.
posted by fallingbadgers at 9:23 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is Slap*Happy's post a parody? As a Southern California kid, I can't tell when a Rhode Islander is being sarcastic.
posted by jon_bristow at 9:27 PM on April 5, 2015 [11 favorites]


If it were cattle ranching or pig farming

Read the thread. It is. Half of typical California's water consumption is for meat and dairy.

More, with more typical weather patterns, or slower population growth, there would be no conflict between urban and agricultural water needs.

Actually Los Angeles is at the same water consumption as it was in 1970, despite adding another million people.

Maybe you should look more avidly into renewable energy

California gets 30% of its energy from renewables, 7th in the nation. It's second in total production to Washington, first if you omit hydroelectric. Your southern New England town is either 43rd (CT) or 41st (RI) in % renewables.

and mass transit

Like the wildly stupid high speed rail link between San Francisco and Los Angeles? Or the 1.6 million daily transit trips in Los Angeles, including one of the fastest growing light rail lines in the country?

I'm guessing you think we should look into stuff like that because you think global climate change is the main problem for our drought rather than overconsumption thanks to under-regulation of industrial water users. If you're worried about climate change, I would have thought you'd be familiar with California's AB 32 regulating greenhouse gas emissions. California trails only New York and D.C. in per capita carbon emissions.

You know what's cool? California has a lot of environmental problems. We also solve a lot of environmental problems. This water situation is fucked eleven different ways, but we're going to figure it out and then everybody else can learn from what we did.
posted by one_bean at 9:29 PM on April 5, 2015 [16 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell >

Tell you what: I'll stop pointing out shallow thinking when the pool gets more than ankle deep.

I abhor shallow thinking as much as anyone, but criticism isn't wise or deep merely by virtue of its trenchant or aggressive contradiction.

Someone upthread literally said California's water problem was population growth because capitalism requires an ever-expanding base of consumers.

Okay, so what? That's a good reason to mock the site and its userbase?

If you can find a more cockamamie, conspiracy-minded, overheated, undergrad, navel-gazing, dorm-room-bowl-smoking, echo-chambery line of discourse, I'd like to see it. Because the only intelligent response is ridicule and laughter, and I've got way, way more quips than I know what to do with.

I think this is an extremely unfair and weirdly ad-hominem remark. mule98J said that as a sort of musing at the end of what I thought was an interesting and informed comment, so I think you're homing in on just one part of what was said to attack it at length and then making an argument based on the rhetorical momentum of that attack about how awful the discussion here is, and none of this is about the topic at hand.

80 percent of California's water is sucked up by agriculture through an out-dated, arcane set of water rights laws that actively punish farmers who use less water by allocating them less water the following year. Every angle to attack that problem that doesn't start with "call your representative in Sacramento" is literally irrelevant.

People need to be held accountable for the failure to responsibly manage a public resource that's essential to the state's survival, and vigorously opposing those private interests whose use of a public resource is unsustainable is part of that. When the governor takes action that's so badly compromised by deference to business interests, it's not obvious to me that it's sensible to put the very thing that's broken in charge of fixing itself.

So let's all stop talking about beheading the French aristocracy and capturing the tools of production to create a workers paradise. It's dumb. And predictable.

I do not see how this follows from the things that came before it, and nobody advocated beheading or capturing tools of production.
posted by clockzero at 9:33 PM on April 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


If you're an Angelino, it's not the farmers sucking your reservoirs dry. It's you sucking water from their wells and irrigation channels every time you start the car or flick on a light switch.

Hi, Angeleno here. Did you mean to say "it's not just the farmers sucking reservoirs dry?" Because then I'd be right there with you - even if residents are only accountable for about 10% of the state's water use, that's still 10% of a very large number, and anything we can do to reduce that means a whole lot. Of course, that's statewide, but if you want to include the whole LA metro area, that's still about 5%. That's a lot!

Of course, there's that other, non-residential 85-90% to account for:

If we have to choose between fresh food and Hollywood, almonds are more important for us as a nation.

I don't understand. Is the argument that California should be using an enormous amount of water for crops it can't support, but Los Angeles is just unforgivable? I guess you're not a Dodgers fan, huh?
posted by teponaztli at 10:05 PM on April 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


You know, if LA collapses we're all just going to move up to Oregon and use the water anyway. Pacific Northwest, here we come!
posted by Justinian at 10:07 PM on April 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


In response to Aizkolari's question upthread about books on this topic more recent than Cadillac Desert that are worth reading, I highly recommend Paolo Bacigalupi's forthcoming novel The Water Knife, which is being published next month. (I was able to read a pre-publication review copy.) Even if you're not normally a science fiction reader I recommend it. It offers a scarily persuasive picture of what the water wars across the American Southwest may be like in the near future. It's a good adventure story, too.
posted by twsf at 10:10 PM on April 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


> how about we examine why we put up with unsupportable megalopolis sprawl

Personal water use is 4% of California's water consumption. All the water that goes into that megalopolis sprawl is probably comparable to the error bars on the 47% of water that goes to dairy and meat.

> Someone upthread literally said California's water problem was population growth because capitalism requires an ever-expanding base of consumers.

Why is that ridiculous? Would there be this problem if the population of California were 10 million (the 1950 population) instead of 40 million?

And, yes, capitalism as it runs so far does require an ever-expanding base of consumers. Pretty well everything depends on the GDP continuing to grow exponentially. That's going to be close to impossible with a static or shrinking population, particularly when we're resource limited.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:12 PM on April 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


"And the list of places where you can grow lettuce in December is actually pretty small."

My winter strawberries in Illinois come from Argentina. They do not cost appreciably more, nor taste appreciably worse, than California strawberries in fall and summer.

My spring strawberries come from local farms and are obviously far better. But almost everything that comes to me from California is grown locally one season a year and comes from South America for no more cost one season a year. Except avocados.

Not that I wish any ill on the Central Valley, the disruption of whose agriculture will be a fucking catastrophe. Just that it won't wipe out the availability of various fruits and vegetables. (Indeed it may encourage their exploitative growth in South America in even WORSE environmental ways.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:14 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


If we have to choose between fresh food and Hollywood, almonds are more important for us as a nation.

Almonds are a luxury, not a staple. Growing water-intensive crops in a semiarid region because they have a higher financial return than anything else may be good business, but it's terrible stewardship. And considering that agriculture accounts for c. 80% of California's water use, it's not the cities that are the problem, and the marginal efficiencies to be gained in urban conservation still won't be enough to sustain agriculture on the present (wasteful) model.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 10:14 PM on April 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


P.S., I grow lettuce in December in my basement. Lettuce is not real picky about either warmth or light. Basement-temperature and escape-window light is fine, depending on how much weekly lettuce you want.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:18 PM on April 5, 2015


> Almonds are a luxury, not a staple.

Enough about the almonds already!

Almonds are substantially more efficient, both economically and in terms of "water needed to produce food", than meat or dairy, which take five times as much of California's water as almonds do. (And there's also the matter that meat and dairy produce vast amounts of really nasty waste, where almonds don't.)

It's simply common sense. Look at your water budget - the place to start cutting down is the budget item that consumes 47% of the water, not the one that consumes 8%.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:12 PM on April 5, 2015


Enough about the almonds already!

What I said about "water-intensive crops" applies more broadly to water-intensive forms of agriculture and husbandry (like, say, cattle ranching, or growing alfalfa only to export it to Asia). Pound for pound you need more water to produce almonds than beef--shelled almonds: 16,095 cubic metres of water per tonne; mixed grazing/feedlot cattle, 15,712 cubic metres of water per tonne, data here and here (PDFs). Pointing out that one of these things is bad is not saying that the other isn't.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 12:00 AM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Wow, I'm kind of surprised at some of the responses here. I mean, when other states have had to deal with naturally occurring calamities that range from disasters all the way to harsh weather, the response is supportive or at least empathetic.

But when something similar happens to California, it's "Fuck you, it's all your fault and no one is gonna help you! Either stop growing food or depopulate all your cities,
and start embracing your brutish and post-apocalyptic struggle over diminishing resources ala Mad Max!"

And, I'm also surprised by the response on this site in particular because irrigation and water engineering is right in the traditional wheel house of big government, since it's closely intertwined with the rise of civilization itself.
posted by FJT at 3:05 AM on April 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


A few years ago, my State looked to be not that far from running out of water, and some of our solons opined that it was not 'the role of government' to compete with private enterprise, in the event that people had to start buying it from trucks or pallets of Dasani at Wal-Mart. Basically there was no contingency plan at all for what to do when the taps run dry.
posted by thelonius at 4:27 AM on April 6, 2015


because irrigation and water engineering is right in the traditional wheel house of big government, since it's closely intertwined with the rise of civilization itself.

This is a pretty astute observation--because, among other things, the geographic scope of inputs to and consequences of a water problem are so, so much bigger than a local municipality or water district.

They are bigger, really, even than a single state--the Colorado River, just to name one particular watershed that figures into the California problem (see illustration top-of-page here) runs through a bunch of different states and two different countries.

Point being, we as Americans are prone to like the idea that smaller, local government and decision-making is naturally superior. But some problems, like this one, by their very scope and sweep demand large scale intervention in some way--even if only to set the overall large-scale goals & rules the smaller units must adhere to reach those goals.

In short--'big government' may be more necessary than we like to think.
posted by flug at 7:24 AM on April 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


I should read up on hydraulic empires. Everything old is new again.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:45 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is anyone writing on the relationship between Ostrom/Bloomington school work on water and the current crisis? It'd be interesting to see that kind of post mortem, since the Ostroms famously used water rights in LA to show that large and disparate networks of users could still manage a common pool resource.

If so, I'd love links or (if the relevant scholars are reading this thread, which seems possible) submissions to a symposium on related issues for the journal I edit. (Yes, self-links.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:07 AM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


> Point being, we as Americans are prone to like the idea that smaller, local government and decision-making is naturally superior.

That's only (or largely) since that asshole Reagan and his minions/masters (take your pick) destroyed the average American's belief that government—yes, even the national government—was a useful thing worth paying taxes for. I love pointing out to "taxes kill prosperity" people that the top marginal rate in the '50s and early '60s, generally considered a high point of the American economy, was 91%. Right through the '70s it was 70%. Reducing taxes has not helped the American economy, it has helped rich people.
posted by languagehat at 8:11 AM on April 6, 2015 [13 favorites]


Wow, I'm kind of surprised at some of the responses here.

People back east are probably still annoyed at Mark Bittman's blatant early spring trolling.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:19 AM on April 6, 2015


Maybe it would be instructive to understand that the San Joaquin Valley, as well as the Los Angeles area from the ocean to the Colorado River were essentially deserts until the irrigation projects began. In the central valley, this happened when a group of farmers dug a ditch from the Kings River (near Centerville) to Germantown--the corporate settlement that became Fresno. This encouraged the railroad to be built along an old Yokuts trade route, represented nowadays by the Hwy 99. The spread of of towns from Sacremanto to Bakersfield originally represented (more or less) a day's travel for wagons. The railroad turned these small towns into marshaling points for truck and orchard goods. Feeder ditches from the San Joaquin, Kings, and Kern Rivers supported these farms.

The Kern River fed into a lake west of Bakersfield, which drained into the San Francisco Bay. Kern River was seasonally navigable in those days. Flatboats came down from the Bay Area to the lake, which I believe was called Lake Visalia. the lake would swell and diminish, according to the snow melt from the Sierras. But flood control projects and diversions have rendered it a dry lake bed, which now supports large tracts of, I believe, alfalfa--at least that's what grew there when I was just a pup. Several sloughs in the area used to support certain migratory birds.

The east side of the valley remained a desert until after the 1950s, and the canal from the Bay Area to the transverse range overlift gave enough elevation for farmers to begin irrigating without having to use deep well pumps. Gravity wins every time.

Please notice, also, that LA traditionally being a desert, didn't begin to sprawl until it got water. About a third or the Colorado River water usage went to LA. Precedents set around the early 1900's are alive and well, but I suppose they will die when the last available water is wrung from the aquifers, and Arizonans blow up the pipes going into California. There is a precedent for this: during the 60's and 70's threats to the water lines going to Southern California from the upper Sierras were real, not imaginary.

The image of California as a cornucopia is valid. It's hard to visualize the incredible spread of wonderful, rock-free soil. The central valley is an ancient seabed, which, with water, will grow pretty much anything. Combined with the climate, conditions couldn't be better. Any sensible society would zone their urban areas in the foothills, and reserve the flats for growing food. But then, any sensible society would bother to look ahead and realize that an economy based on constant growth is analogous to a cancer. By the time the system begins to fail, only catastrophic measures will prevail. We won't have to do anything, it will be done for us. Typical biological controls involved the dying off of a significant proportion of a population.

During my lifetime California was indeed a cornucopia. I saw the small towns in the central valley turning into bedroom communities, first for the Bay Area, then for Sacramento, Fresno, and (who'd-ever-a-thunk-it?) Bakersfield. Highway 99 became a strip-city. Much of what I liked about living in the San Joaquin Valley disappeared. Nowadays the foothills are becoming increasingly more suburbanized by the affluent working in the cities. It's my lot in life to be able to rant against the encroachment of city-living folks, and the attendant urban ills. But I guess it's theirs to have to deal with it. It seems a sad to contemplate, and I know I haven't solved any problems by moving away to live in an environment that better suits me.

If they are Sideshow Bob, ever stepping on the rake, then I'm the guy on the front porch yelling Get Off My Lawn. California represents only one aspect of our problem, but their plight is a perfect analogy of a more general condition. They are simply at the front end of the bus.
posted by mule98J at 9:49 AM on April 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


Also on the point about letting LA burn... I'm no fan of LA but it's not like other major cities somehow have everything they need right in the city. New York pipes in water and pipes out waste in incredible volumes. It's not like they're just pumping drinking water straight out of the Hudson or something. The same goes for Atlanta or any big city that's not sitting directly on one of the great lakes.
posted by GuyZero at 9:55 AM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've been on the "water conservation is subsidizing development" bandwagon for a while now.

Places like Adelanto really break my heart. The first time I drove past it in ~2004 it was an open desert, in 2008 there were developments crowding both sides of the 395.

This stuff can only happen with a long term plan to supply water, limiting water usage in the already developed areas just makes it that much more practical for sprawl to creep farther.
posted by ethansr at 10:05 AM on April 6, 2015


Adelanto was an example of the real-estate bubble that (somewhat) burst in 2006. People were desperate to get any house at all, and were willing to commute an hour into LA County in exchange for owning their own house.

While it's sad Adelanto may be fading away, Victorville and Hesperia aren't in any danger of disappearing.
posted by jon_bristow at 10:46 AM on April 6, 2015


capitalism needs an ever-expanding consumer base

Contributing to the minor derail - this statement is correct, even if it's not the proximate cause of CA's current water issues. More people use more resources, so it would seem that stabilizing (or eventually decreasing) the number of people is prudent. However, in capitalist countries declining birthrates are stated to be a "crisis". Why? Because the entire basis of market economies is a nonsensical pyramid scheme in the long run. It's a real stumper.

Also the whole "Westerners have more impact"/"it's not the numbers, it's the lifestyle" thing is a red herring. Everyone who doesn't have all our stuff and conveniences *wants* all our stuff and conveniences, and companies are going to suck the earth dry giving it to them.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:24 AM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


It was pretty amazing to see the Colorado River Aqueduct from the air. I didn't exactly follow it, but I happened to be flying along a similar route. That human-directed water flowing through hundreds of miles of seeming desert...
posted by exogenous at 11:24 AM on April 6, 2015


I work for a municipal water district in the Bay Area, with vast differences in wealth and poverty. The only way I see actual conservation happening among the wealther folks (who still have lush green lawns, even here in Nor Cal) is *steeply* tiered water pricing. Those already conserving wouldn't take a hit, but water hogs would see thier bills skyrocket. Bonus, more money to fix our old, ignored, antiquated and leaky systems.
posted by k8oglyph at 11:31 AM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Nestlé called out for bottling, selling California water during drought
Oh, no! With the water that goes into each bottle, we could have grown and exported one twentieth of an almond instead!

No, that is not an exaggeration.

This is why prices are good things. They generate much better results than forcing activists and central planners and lobbyists to make hand waving guesses (or in the latter cases, possibly deliberate misrepresentations) about which patterns of trade are most costly.
posted by roystgnr at 12:23 PM on April 6, 2015


I'm a native northern Californian. I grew up during the drought in the 80s; I didn't see proper rain for the first time until I was 2. Last summer my family property was lit on fire during the worst of the drought and burned to the ground. The lush marshes I used to hike in look like a post apocalyptic wasteland.

This drought scares me enough that I, who was raised to have meat with every meal, am going to cut down to beef once or twice a month. And screw almonds! I have always considered myself a carnivore, but I can't justify eating something with such a drastic environmental impact anymore.

What else can we Californians do? Is there somewhere we can donate? Someone specific to write to to advocate for the regulation of agricultural water usage?

I hope more people will do this, too--I suspect Californians are not the only ones eating the meat raised here. I also really really hope that we get some regulation on our agricultural water usage and that the tiered water prices k8oglyph mentions are put into practice.
posted by chatongriffes at 12:55 PM on April 6, 2015


To the extent that the problem is residential at all, it's lawns that are the issue. Lawns are 1/2 to 3/4 of residential water use , and if you've ever ventured into a California suburb for any amount of time, you'll note that almost without exception, the only thing ever, ever done on a front lawn is mowing. They're useless, purely cosmetic water wasters.

I wouldn't be in favor of regulating front lawns out of existence, but I would be in favor of charging people water usage rates such that they're effectively paying for out of state water if they insist on having a front lawn.
posted by cnc at 1:30 PM on April 6, 2015


When my husband and I drive to work we always comment to each other on the state of the hills we see. Rain is predicted tomorrow, so they're going to be green for a few days. Right now they are maybe 5 different shades of brown without a single hint of life. All around them however are lush communities with sprawling lawns, fountains (!!!), and trees that obviously have no business being here. It's embarrassing.

The only visible messages I encounter are billboards stating mandatory watering schedules, stuck in a less affluent part of town where you might see a blade of grass or two in the pavement cracks.

All in all it just looks like people are going "Well surely someone will figure this out ¯\_(ツ)_/¯"

Even with agricultural usage bearing the weight of this, it's so, so depressing.
posted by erratic meatsack at 1:39 PM on April 6, 2015


Where did we get the idea that everyone's yard should look like a golf course green, anyway? I have seen speculation that it was an affectation of being an English aristocrat, but I don't know if that's true.
posted by thelonius at 2:41 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Where did we get the idea that everyone's yard should look like a golf course green, anyway?

I don't know where it originally started but I do know that 1950s suburbia has always been represented this way, at least in various film/media that I've consumed. The idea of the nuclear family, living in the suburbs, mowing the lawn, keeping it perfect and green.
posted by Fizz at 3:31 PM on April 6, 2015


People go insane over their lawns, too. I remember a couple of times when metro Atlanta counties imposed outdoor water restrictions, and people would be busted defying it in the middle of the night. In general, this is one of the worst aspects of the suburban lifestyle. Under the excuse of property values, people fetishize perfect lawns as like a sign of moral character. It has got to go.
posted by thelonius at 5:14 PM on April 6, 2015


People go insane over their lawns, too. I remember a couple of times when metro Atlanta counties imposed outdoor water restrictions, and people would be busted defying it in the middle of the night. In general, this is one of the worst aspects of the suburban lifestyle. Under the excuse of property values, people fetishize perfect lawns as like a sign of moral character. It has got to go.

While I certainly disagree with breaking a water restriction simply because you want your lawn to look nice and shiny and green. I do understand the desire to keep your house from losing value.

Back in the late 90s when I lived in Dallas, TX there were water restrictions and I know many people broke them because if the slab foundation upon which your house is built becomes too dry it cracks and that can be costly to fix. Especially when it comes to resale value.
posted by Fizz at 6:03 PM on April 6, 2015


That had not occurred to me. Also, HOAs may be fining people if their grass dies, I guess.
posted by thelonius at 6:28 PM on April 6, 2015


Fizz: "I don't know where it originally started but I do know that 1950s suburbia has always been represented this way, at least in various film/media that I've consumed. "

Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of Central Park and many other iconic American parks, designed the suburb of Riverside, Illinois, in the 1860s. Instead of the houses butting up against the road as in cities, or set back each in their own fenced yard with livestock and food gardens, Riverside had a long ribbon of close-cropped grass running in front of all the houses, with no fences or walls to break it up (by law). It mimicked the great houses of England in their parks and lawns, cropped short by sheep, but it was a democratization of the grand houses so that the "park" and its lawn served not just one wealthy family, but a whole block of middle-class houses so that every American family could have a healthy, beautiful, green space to live and let their children play and enjoy the healthy outdoor air and the moral benefits of beautiful landscaping. The pastoral landscapes that Olmsted brought to the middle classes were considered healthy, soothing, and restorative; it was a communitarian project, as well, where the "park" was envisioned as a shared space.

It may not have caught on much beyond the midwest (where lawns aren't great uses of landscape because they allow too much runoff, but they more or less manage themselves without much intervention), but technology allowed the introduction of sprinklers, widespread home plumbing, reel mowers, and commuter rail right about the same time; and there was a craze for a) golf (and other lawn-requiring sports) and b) mimicking the English upper classes right after Riverside caught the public's imagination as a "model town," so Olmstead's lawns caught on nationwide. He probably would have disapproved, as he thought landscaping for parks should follow the landscape, respecting the contours of the land, and he was an active preservationist, helping to protect Yosemite and Niagara; he wanted to balance truly natural, wild landscapes with man-made pastoral landscapes that provided the restorative power of nature within the urban structures of cities and towns.

Riverside is still a pretty town. But not so much the right sort of landscaping for a desert region.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:30 PM on April 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Please notice, also, that LA traditionally being a desert, didn't begin to sprawl until it got water

LA is not a desert.
posted by thefoxgod at 6:35 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Thank you, Eyebrows McGee!

I've seen his work in Atlanta many times, and it is indeed beautiful.
posted by thelonius at 6:42 PM on April 6, 2015


"My understanding has been that combining water rights law and "takings" law creates one of the least clear-cut areas there is. Apparently Colorado didn't start regulating groundwater until 1957; I've been looking to find if they had to buy out grandfathered-in pseudorights or if there was a "takings" challenge or anything, haven't found anything yet, but in any case they were able to do it and relatively recently."

Kansas's example isn't exactly on point, since what the court case found was that eliminating the unused asserted water rights under prior appropriation didn't constitute a taking. But you're right that it's significantly less clearcut than I was making it out to be.

California has a unique set of laws around groundwater usage (this is a draft booklet prepared by the DHS on them), combined with a couple of unique circumstances: No statewide agency authority (devolved to counties) and a set of basin adjudications. Legally, it's a mishmash of prior appropriation, correlative rights, and prescriptive rights and while the general precedent (so far as I understand it) is that regulation of water rights isn't a taking, shifting into a statewide authority for a single doctrine of water rights would necessarily involve untangling a couple-hundred year set of competing legal rights doctrines as well as a serious takings challenge based on eliminating claims that aren't unused (as in Kansas) out of neglect, but unused due to drought (maintaining intent) since those rights can be reasserted once the is sufficient water. Or, to simplify, something that distinguishes California is that it recognizes water rights that are asserted now but impossible to fulfill as legitimate, and removing those rights (assuming there's ever any end to the drought) can be challenged as a taking.
posted by klangklangston at 7:26 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Please notice, also, that LA traditionally being a desert, didn't begin to sprawl until it got water."

Don't mean to be a pedant, but LA's a Mediterranean climate, specifically a chaparral Mediterranean climate, but both the annual precipitation and reference evapotranspiration are outside of the bounds of any deserts.
posted by klangklangston at 7:46 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Riverside is still a pretty town. But not so much the right sort of landscaping for a desert region."

SoCal sprawl and suburb lawns have a long and complicated history.

Two big factors led to the prohibition on high-density apartments (replaced with sprawling bungalow developments): Xenophobic social reformism and the San Francisco 1906 earthquake. In the wake of East Coast anti-poverty crusades, including the photos of Lewis Hines, LA civic leaders crusaded against the dense tenements of New York, said to be hotbeds of vermin, crime and disease — and immigrants. Part of the vision of LA's great boosters was an explicitly white city, and in the early 20th century Irish and Italian people didn't qualify. But you see the pitches for the curative power of California air all over the Southland — Pasadena was in large part established as a colony for rich tuberculoids from back East. And while the prohibition on buildings over 150 feet was passed two years before the 1906 SF earthquake, it was a handy rebuttal to anyone who wanted to argue for a denser business core.

(Weirdly, for all the descriptions of LA as a desert, the biggest natural disaster in the early days of LA was flooding from the river, which used to happen pretty regularly until the current flood control system from the Army Corps of Engineers.)

And thinking of LA as some bastard folly of Olmsted planning is ironic, given that the Olmsted Brothers plan for LA was commissioned in the late '20s and intentionally suppressed by the LA Chamber of Commerce.

But the main sprawl of LA lawns was in the post-war era, where they were accommodating GIs with cheap housing and FHA loans to work in aircraft and car factories.
posted by klangklangston at 8:23 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I must admit I'm a bit boggled on the water useage on the residential side of things the article quotes: 201 gallons per day per capita in Palm Springs, and 100 gallons (380 litres) for the rest of the state.

During the last 10 years, Brisbane has been through some pretty tough water restrictions. The suggested water useage during this time was 37 gallons (140 litres). As a 2-person household (admittedly no kids), it was so doable our useage is still around the 150-60 L mark even though the city has lifted water restrictions.

And it was doable. What the fuck are you people doing with your water?? There was quite a huge push to promote shorter showers (complete with 3-minute egg timers to stick in your shower), leaving hoses running without auto-stop nozzles was against the law, there were huge restrictions on watering your garden. Yes, people dobbed in neighbours for washing their cars while parked on concrete, or for hosing down concrete driveways. No one really sooked about having their freedoms or rights to use water they'd rightfully paid for taken away from them.

Do people in the US use dual-flush toilets? That one seems a no-brainer to me.

One huge difference it's made in Brisbane is that a lot of residences now have huge rainwater tanks to freely water their garden when they choose, and a lot of households have hooked those tanks up to systems that can easily use greywater. It also makes more sense to not have to pay for water you're going to sprnkle onto your garden or car or down your toilet anyway. Yes, rain tanks work in droughts, and no, they're not always full.

--Not focussing on agriculture as I know diddly-squat about it - but holy hell residential Californians turn off your fucking taps already. Get a fucking rain tank if you want English lawns.
posted by chronic sublime at 8:26 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Brisbane seems to get three times the average precipitation that Los Angeles does.
posted by jaguar at 8:43 PM on April 6, 2015


I really don't know how to say this politely, but the inclusion of only New York-based media on the intensely Californian topic of the drought is incredibly insulting.

The LA Times has an entire section of their website dedicated to the local effects of the drought. Even the gutted, useless San Diego U-T has a few things to offer on the western hemisphere's largest desalination plant (it's going up in San Diego County). That's not counting the OC Register (let's not) or the San Jose Mercury News or the San Francisco Chronicle or plenty of other papers reporting the local impact of the drought.

It's just maddening to read an intensely Californian story entirely through the lens of the East Coast media. Am I affected? Am I affected, NYT? Aurghghhhhhh.
posted by librarylis at 10:07 PM on April 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


I'm also surprised by the response on this site in particular because irrigation and water engineering is right in the traditional wheel house of big government

Irrigation and water engineering are what has enabled the growth of California (and Las Vegas, and Phoenix) to the point where this is as much of a problem as it is. The massive engineering projects of the 20th century, from the LA Aqueduct to Hoover Dam to Glen Canyon Dam to the Central Valley Project and Central Arizona Project, have contributed directly to the growth of population and agriculture beyond what's sustainable in the long term. At present (and over the past 15 years), withdrawals from the Colorado River under the 1922 compact are in excess of the average annual flow by 2.4 million acre-feet. This has consequences; the level of Lake Mead (which supplies Las vegas with water) has been dropping, and dropping (down 63 feet in the last 10 years, and within 34 feet of the 1050 foot level where one of the intakes that feeds Las Vegas will start sucking air). This is why the Las Vegas water authority has spent $817 million on building a third intake tunnel under the lake, like a bathtub drain, to suck out every last drop. (Once Lake Mead reaches 1050 feet, power generation from Hoover Dam also stops, which is another problem.)

With the Colorado being tremendously overdrawn, there isn't an "irrigation and water engineering solution" that doesn't involve diversion of water from elsewhere through cross-basin transfers. Such a project would require billions or trillions in infrastructure spending, including the construction of a dozen new power plants to power pumping stations (since much of the water, to get where you need it to go, would have to go up elevations of thousands of feet over a distance of more than a thousand miles), and would be very difficult because the watersheds of any rivers or lakes that can be used for such transfers are shared with Canada and protected by international treaty.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 10:57 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Rain barrels are a bit more efficient, but keep in mind that you're just pointing rain that would be going elsewhere (gutters to river, groundwater, etc) into your yard. The amount that you're "taking out of the system" by keeping it from going its regular route is probably negligible, but it's something to consider.
posted by NoraReed at 11:10 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have heard of municipalities banning them, citing that reason
posted by thelonius at 5:52 AM on April 7, 2015


> LA is not a desert.

While technically true, of course, this seems a disingenuous thing to insist on, since what people mean when they say LA (or SoCal) is a desert is not that it fits the latest scientific definition but that it's a place where water is a serious issue and it shouldn't have been allowed to sprawl out of control and use water as if it were endlessly and freely available, which is unquestionably true. Basically (as Robert Caro wrote in the first volume of his LBJ bio), the entire western half of the US is desert by that loose but useful definition, and for a couple of centuries we've acted as if it could magically be turned into a lush agricultural paradise. Surely it's more important to combat that destructive attitude than to nitpick about definitions (especially since "desert," like "season" or "planet," is not a word that people are ever going to use scientifically).

From your link:
The desert is a place where native organisms either survive extremes, or they don't survive at all. ...

Where the natural vegetation of Los Angeles remains, it survives predictable cycles. The chaparral plants have adapted ways to survive periodic fires, and now and then they have to put those skills to use. But the toyons in the hills predictably survive the predictable dry seasons, the bunchgrasses set seed in anticipation of wet autumns that almost always come, and marine layer fogs reliably cool the city in June when actual deserts start to climb above triple-digit temperatures.

That's not a desert we're talking about.
Is that kind of thing going to convince anyone? Does even the author of it seriously think that when people talk about "desert" they mean "a place where native organisms either survive extremes, or they don't survive at all"?
posted by languagehat at 9:06 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


LA Times graphic on water consumption for various foods in gallons per ounce.
almonds are far from the only thirsty foods. Others include beef, pork, lamb, chickpeas, lentils, peas, goat, mangoes and asparagus.

Less thirsty crops? Cabbage, strawberries, onions, lettuce, carrots, eggplant, grapefruit and tomatoes.
posted by morganw at 12:58 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


More on the Resnicks: Oligarch Valley: How Beverly Hills billionaire farmers Lynda and Stewart Resnick profit from the Iran sanctions they lobbied for. "Economic sanctions are what have allowed the Resnicks to create their pistachio empire, which would suffer a severe blow if relations with Iran were ever normalized. Iran’s pistachios are considered to be superior to America’s, so much so that Israelis still buy Iranian pistachios shipped in through Turkey."
posted by exogenous at 2:47 PM on April 7, 2015


"Is that kind of thing going to convince anyone? Does even the author of it seriously think that when people talk about "desert" they mean "a place where native organisms either survive extremes, or they don't survive at all"?"

Yeah, kinda. I think they mean an extremely dry place, often with implications of wasteland. And I think that it makes people picture Death Valley as the natural state of LA, rather than Grenada, Ankara or Athens (same climate band; similar annual precipitation).

"While technically true, of course, this seems a disingenuous thing to insist on, since what people mean when they say LA (or SoCal) is a desert is not that it fits the latest scientific definition but that it's a place where water is a serious issue and it shouldn't have been allowed to sprawl out of control and use water as if it were endlessly and freely available, which is unquestionably true."

Dude, "latest scientific definition"? "LA is a desert" is a hoary stereotype that doesn't ring true to a lot of locals, and LA doesn't have to be a desert to have serious water supply concerns. But given we're already back to using about the same amount of water we did in 1970, I'd say there's been some recognition of that. And to rebut the notion that it's helpful to use a definition of the entire Western half of the U.S. (hey Seattle), it makes it harder to combat the notion of LA as needing to care about this stuff when people who live here are told something that's pretty clearly not true — it's not like we don't have real desert within a day's drive.
posted by klangklangston at 8:32 PM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


It seems we disagree. I can live with that. But just to rebut your presumptive presumption, I have myself lived in LA.
posted by languagehat at 9:26 AM on April 8, 2015




I'll have you know that we here in Los Angeles had a solid 7 or 8 minutes of light drizzle last evening. So we're good.
posted by Justinian at 1:40 PM on April 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


To me, desert means sand. I think that when people say LA is a desert it draws a comparison to cities like Dubai, which is unfair and rhetorically loaded. Phoenix is a desert city, Las Vegas is a desert city, but LA? LA is more Spain than Sahara. Of course, if by LA you mean Los Angeles county, well, there's real desert within those boundaries, but there are also ski resorts, rivers, islands, and an ocean.

Not that it really matters, but I live in LA and spend a lot of time in the actual desert.
posted by feloniousmonk at 3:15 PM on April 8, 2015


> To me, desert means sand.

That's as may be, but literally not a single person who says LA is a desert means that, so it's kind of a red herring.
posted by languagehat at 3:17 PM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm not going to say literally everyone because that's ridiculous - talk about red herrings - but I think a significant percentage of those who go on about LA being a desert are doing it to score rhetorical or political points. You probably aren't in this case, but watch the news or read a few blogs, you won't need to look hard. Hating on California is a national sport and this is one of the latest hot trends.

I grew up in the midwest and the image I had in my mind of a desert was basically the Sahara, until I moved here, thanks to cartoons and things like that growing up. I've explained to confused people that the Colorado Desert, while not being the miles of sand dunes they might've pictured, is still a remarkable desert in its own right. I think your certainty in the rarity of this perspective is misplaced. I think it is precisely these actual-desert images those who champion this term wish to conjure in people's minds as a way of emphasizing how liberals make terrible decisions or whatever when they say it's a desert city and that's why I avoid the term and will encourage others not to use it.
posted by feloniousmonk at 3:41 PM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


The elephant in the room when it comes to what people think when they think "desert" is obviously Iraq, which I'm not sure how I overlooked the first time around.
posted by feloniousmonk at 3:59 PM on April 8, 2015


LA is more Spain than Sahara.

No. Look up "Horse Latitudes" and "desert", then peek a little further south, to Baja. The phenomenon of west-coast deserts is not unique to North America - cold oceans meeting warm air drives away the rain. A delicate balance allowed wet storms to surge up into the mountains, anyway, and that balance has been broken. Spain is a peninsula, with the warm, wet Mediterranean on the side opposite a warm, northerly open-ocean current. It's still fairly arid.

The Atacama Desert, the Atlantic Coastal Desert, the Namib, Western Australia... there used to be one exception: California. Used to be.

So, the question becomes, does LA's need of water to warehouse people and their washed cars and watered lawns trump farmers' much larger requirements to grow fresh food in winter for a nation of 350mln?

If you don't have enough water to grow any kind of crop, you don't have enough water to sustain a city. If you destroy an irrigation system, it typically does not come back. This is pretty clear in many historical records dating as far back as early Mesopotamia.

Tell you what, implement "toilet to tap" statewide (gotta love the ruthlessly dumb and mean GOP branding of essential public works projects) and then we'll let you turn the central valley into Dust Bowl 2.0 to keep your sweet digs in Rancho Park.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:00 PM on April 8, 2015


Who is this "we"? You apparently live in Rhode Island. I'm afraid you don't get a say, thanks.
posted by Justinian at 8:37 PM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Here's an example of the native surroundings of the San Fernando Valley. This is a far cry from the Atacama. It's not the product of irrigation and is basically as close to the natural state of the land as you can find in the area, although if the LA River weren't channelized it would probably be even more lush. Even now, at the height of the drought and with a channelized river, there is water in the creek. You can cut every drop of imported water and LA's not going to be swallowed by the sand. If you want to say there are deserts in southern California, I agree, but the city of Los Angeles is not located in one of them.

I don't really know what to do with the rest of that. You're coming at me as if I had some input into William Mulholland's decision making or whatever. As for what I can keep...
posted by feloniousmonk at 8:41 PM on April 8, 2015


Letters and Politics had an interview (starts at about 20:00) with Mark Arax today who, despite coming off as a bit curmudgeonly, seemed to have a deep knowledge of Fresno and the surrounding history. He seemed to indicate that a lot of the narratives that are being thrown around in the press -- mainly the East Coast press -- are pretty misleading. (Except, of course, that capital controls everything... that seems to be a constant.) The more I learn about the water / land use / agriculture / suburbanization / urban planning / environment nexus in California, the more I realize what a tangled mess it is.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 10:19 PM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is ample evidence of numerous centuries-long droughts in California where it looked a lot closer to the Atacama than Iberia. This may not be one of them, and if so, it's still important not to wreck irrigation systems and to look for alternate urban water supplies.

I was invoking the voice of karma rather than any kind of dictatorial decree - tho it may come as something of a shock which side the Federal government will back when push comes to shove in the urban-vs-agriculture water usage debate.

This confrontation can be forestalled with water recycling and desalinization projects to help meet urban needs without impacting agriculture as much - Singapore gets 40% of its water this way, and this from a crash program that only began in 2002. For whatever reason, these aren't on the table when discussing solutions, but destroying fruit and nut groves (and chickpea farms, apparently) is.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:33 AM on April 9, 2015


> I'm not going to say literally everyone because that's ridiculous - talk about red herrings - but I think a significant percentage of those who go on about LA being a desert are doing it to score rhetorical or political points.

Boy, you moved the goalposts so fast I could hear the whizzing sound! Yes, of course "those who go on about LA being a desert are doing it to score rhetorical or political points"; so are those who go on about how it's seriously, definitely not a desert. We're all trying to score rhetorical or political points; that's what discourse on public topics involves. But to refresh your memory, what I actually said was "literally not a single person who says LA is a desert means that" (where "that" is "desert = sand"), so if you're denying that you're saying that people who say LA is a desert mean that it is built on sand and that to traverse the streets of the city you will probably need a camel or risk getting your shoes full of sand. Is that what you're claiming? If not, then you agree with me.
posted by languagehat at 7:30 AM on April 9, 2015


And, in fact, Los Angeles's mayor has been pushing reducing the amount of water imported into LA by half over time (it looks like LA's current water supply draws 11% from local sources.) Santa Barbara is trying to restart a desalination plant, but there are a lot of pros and cons, especially environmental and long-term expense outlooks. Certain cities (ahem, Beverly Hills) clearly need to have much more strict water use regulations and rules, but the concept of changing urban water use as a whole in California is not a new or radical suggestion. LA is only a hundred thousand years old, so hey, who knows what will happen next?

No one I have spoken to in LA is blasé about the drought, and no one is seriously suggesting bulldozing all the farms (I don't know where you found that argument, though I have heard suggestions of decreasing the alfalfa production). You did suggest redistributing the industries and people here, but the greater LA region alone is something like 13 to 18 million people, and I'm not aware of any metropolitan regions in the country that aren't already under huge infrastructure strains and problems, without even the economic impact of accommodating even a fraction of that population.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:33 AM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


And just so we're clear on my point (because people sure are fond of nitpicking, misrepresenting, and other forms of disingenuous discourse): I do not particularly care about the accuracy of the statement "LA was built in a desert" (or "SoCal is a desert" or the like); I care that SoCal stop treating water as an infinite and costless resource. If the simplistic idea of a desert helps focus people's minds on that important truth, I am all for it, and you should be too.
posted by languagehat at 7:34 AM on April 9, 2015


I haven't misrepresented anything and find the accusation that I'm being disingenuous to be absurd. In the interest of not filling Metafilter up with even more mindless drama, I'll just move on at this point.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:13 AM on April 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I find your idea that I was accusing you of being disingenuous to be absurd, but yes, let's just move on, this is getting ridiculous.
posted by languagehat at 3:55 PM on April 9, 2015


If every person from Los Angeles to the southern edge of California left tonight, California agriculture would get less than 10% more water.

Maybe someone already linked to that piece.

Anyway, it may seem profligate, but household water usage even in LA and San Diego is a literal drop in the bucket.
posted by GuyZero at 4:17 PM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


At what point does LA DWP operating a desalination plant become economically and ecologically sensible? This is not a rhetorical question, I don't understand the economic and ecological effects of large scale desalination very well. And by "very well" I mean "at all".
posted by Justinian at 5:08 PM on April 9, 2015


it shouldn't have been allowed to sprawl out of control and use water as if it were endlessly and freely available, which is unquestionably true.

I don't think unquestionably means what you think it does. I mean, I would certainly question that statement.

Residential water use _is not an issue_ right now. Agriculture is. LA has been getting more and more efficient, and there would be enough water for LA if we didn't basically give it away to farmers.
posted by thefoxgod at 6:55 PM on April 9, 2015


It would be different if the farmers were prioritizing water-efficient crops, but instead its stuff like beef and almonds and rice, which are ridiculous to grow/raise in a water-restricted environment. There are plenty of other foods that could be grown to solve this problem, whereas even if we wiped LA, San Diego, and San Francisco off the map there would still be a severe water shortage.
posted by thefoxgod at 7:00 PM on April 9, 2015


"At what point does LA DWP operating a desalination plant become economically and ecologically sensible? This is not a rhetorical question, I don't understand the economic and ecological effects of large scale desalination very well. And by "very well" I mean "at all"."

For the answer to the economic question, apparently there's a program and spreadsheet that will allow you to estimate that pretty well by plugging a bunch of variables into a formula. But honestly, I figure you're better equipped than I am to make sense of it.
posted by klangklangston at 10:32 PM on April 9, 2015




It would be different if the farmers were prioritizing water-efficient crops

The state simply has to figure out a way to start charging more for water. There are lots of solutions once water has a real price for industrial users. But the current system of water rights is about as crazy a system as possible.
posted by GuyZero at 8:45 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just heard my first attack ad from Big Ag on the radio... it went something like this: "People are saying Ag takes 80% of California's water, but that's not true. We only take 40% because half of California's water is being squandered by environmentalists (who want things like saltwater to not poison fields, certain species of fish to be preserved, etc.). Therefore, cut their water, not our water."

Awesome.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 11:13 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I can't figure out what the state is waiting for with regard to drastic water restrictions on agriculture. Do they think the problem will become more soluble over time? I guess they were just praying for rain and snow but that time has passed.

You can't wish this particular problem away.
posted by Justinian at 12:24 PM on April 11, 2015


"Just heard my first attack ad from Big Ag on the radio... it went something like this: "People are saying Ag takes 80% of California's water, but that's not true. We only take 40% because half of California's water is being squandered by environmentalists (who want things like saltwater to not poison fields, certain species of fish to be preserved, etc.). Therefore, cut their water, not our water.""

That line of disingenuous demagoguery gets so up my nose so quick: They're referring to the water usage labeled "environmental" in the state resource management plans, because fuck an environmentalist, right? But what's included in that "environmental"? Things like keeping the Yosemite waterfalls going and preventing the Sacramento delta from being flooded with saltwater. Everyone benefits from the tourism money that a lot of that "environmental" water usage entails, and agriculture certainly benefits from not turning a lot of the arable land around Sacramento into a fucking salt marsh. It's like if there was a radio spot from oil companies complaining that nobody thanked them for all the oil they didn't spill.
posted by klangklangston at 4:17 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


"I can't figure out what the state is waiting for with regard to drastic water restrictions on agriculture. Do they think the problem will become more soluble over time? I guess they were just praying for rain and snow but that time has passed."

Part of it is that the places that are suffering both first and most in California are rural mountain areas without a lot of groundwater, and they're represented disproportionately by anti-regulation Republicans who are working hard on convincing them that it's actually the environmentalists' fault that they can't get anything from their wells anymore.
posted by klangklangston at 4:22 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Will California's Golf Courses Survive the Drought?

God, I hope not.
posted by Aizkolari at 5:29 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


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