Western drought not your problem? Think again

This will be my third winter here in the California Central Valley and so far I have yet to experience any significant precipitation.  California is in a serious drought, and currently there is no end in sight.  Climatologists are predicting another winter of less than average precipitation.  Conditions (for both plants and humans alike) are continuing to become more and more extreme, but it seems everywhere I look people are FAILING to acknowledge the gravity of the situation.  The ignorance and apathy I encounter every day in regards to these conditions is alarming.  I see irrigation systems running to irrigate non-native turf lawns ALL OVER TOWN, and, during mid day I might add.  I see excess runoff from irrigation systems and car washes running down the the street drainage for blocks and blocks.  I see people watering on days that are not allowed per the drought water restriction plan in effect throughout the city.  My own landlord was trying to tell me that I “had to” flood irrigate the lawn to keep the grass green “in accordance with the neighborhood”.  Seriously?!??????  It wasn’t until I cited city ordinances outlining the city-wide water use restrictions in effect, and called his attention to the fact that flood irrigation was currently a FINE-ABLE OFFENSE, that he finally stopped making lease violation threats.  What I’m wondering is, what is it going to take for people to realize that fresh water is a limited resource in the California ecosystem?  Honestly, I will probably not stick around long enough to find out.  Water reserves here are dwindling at an alarming rate with no predictions of recharge.

There are many cities throughout the state that are quickly running out of water (http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/08/02/cities-running-out-of-water/13443393).  In some cases, wells have been pumped dry and small communities have been forced to either pay absurd costs to have water trucked in, or relocate.  In a state like California with a 42.6 billion dollar agricultural industry (cdfa.ca.gov), you better believe that this water crisis is eventually going to be felt across the country.  Perhaps you have already been paying more for your produce; maybe even doing so unknowingly.

In my SOS collections this year I have noticed several large populations that have produced lots of seeds in years past have produced little to none this past season.  Could this be coincidental?  I doubt it.  Many of these native species have evolved genetically to be drought resistant, but even still show signs of stress in such extreme cases.  Part of my position at the Cosumnes River Preserve is managing restoration projects.   When native plants are installed for re-vegetation, drip irrigation is required in summer months for 2-3 years during the plant establishment period.  With water rights here continuing to tighten and the Department of Water Resources auditing every ounce of water pumped from the rivers and streams, I am concerned that the water we use for habitat restoration at the Preserve is eventually going to be reduced, or cut off.  People need water, our agricultural crops need water, and our environment needs water.  With a finite amount of water in the Western ecosystem, management is critical.  Would you be willing to spend more money on your groceries if you knew that by doing so water was being allocated to habitat conservation projects in California?

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