Towns and municipalities in California are starting to reach the hair on fire stage, if they haven't already, regarding water shortages. Some examples:
The streets of East Porterville were busy Friday as trucks, cars, flatbeds and Red Cross disaster relief trucks traversed the area delivering bottled drinking water to residents of East Porterville without water. Plenty of activity was going on at the Doyle Colony Fire Station which was set up as a command and organizing center for the deliveries. [..]
“There are about 1,400 homes in the area,” Office of Emergency Services (OES) Manager Andrew Lockman said. There were 182 homes that had reported not having water or were having some kind of water issue. “We only have population data for 65 of them. Of those there were 386 people [in the households].” [...]
Refugio Salas, a volunteer from FHCN, said one of the residents said their family had been out of water for about a week and had to go buy their own. [...]
Besides delivering the bottled water, volunteers were also providing residents with grant applications to receive future, ongoing water deliveries from a delivery service. Friday’s distribution was an immediate, emergency relief effort to provide enough water to last residents about three weeks; however, residents will need to sign up for and qualify for the grant program to continue to receive bottled water.
What happens after three weeks is up is anyone's guess. Who gets the water under the program and who gets to fend for themselves? It isn't clear to me, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out some people will make out just fine while others will have to be satisfied with less. And many of the latter will be the least able to buy their own.
Just as summer in the San Joaquin Valley was reaching a full boil in June, the Colunga family lost its water and its connection to the modern world.
Like a reliable workhorse suddenly stressed beyond its limit, the family’s 70-year-old water well coughed, gasped, and, in a final dusty breath, died. For more than two months, often in 100-degree heat, Gladys and Jorge Colunga and their six children, ages six months to 16 years, have lived without running water. They are one of at least eight families in this unincorporated Tulare County community of 30-odd homes whose wells have gone dry this year.
The Colunga’s plight, coming in the midst of California’s record-setting drought, exposes a telling gap in state and local water codes – namely a failure to track and regulate groundwater use – that is diminishing the quality of life and putting the health of thousands of poor and vulnerable residents in peril. [...]
... Tulare County, which is nearly the size of Connecticut and among the 100 largest counties In the U.S., has emerged as the epicenter of a water crisis that is growing worse with each dry month. Well failures are afflicting both public water systems, which serve hundreds or thousands of people, and private domestic wells that anchor a family.
The State estimates that up to 5.3 trillion gallons of its groundwater reserves have been used up. During peak irrigation season the water table was dropping at the rate of six feet per week according to one Central Valley water manager cited in the article linked above. Wells are being drilled at an ever increasing rate, even as the availability of water, as evidenced by well failures, continues to drop like a rock. And drilling a new well can cost anywhere from $16,000 to $25,000, well beyond the ability of most individuals and families to afford. The Feds are helping municipal water systems through the USDA, but that doesn't help those who have relied on their own wells in the past to supply their needs.
Even then, cities are starting to impose restrictions on water usage, such as San Jose and Santa Clara. However, some cities don't appear to have the means or the political will to enforce those restrictions:
But San Jose will not be enforcing its new rules independently. Instead, it will rely on the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which is already hiring 10 "water cops" to crack down on those who abuse drought restrictions starting next month.
San Jose is not ready to fine water wasters, unlike a small number of California cities, such as Sacramento, Pleasanton and Santa Cruz. Instead, San Jose is focusing on education, hoping residents voluntarily follow the new rules after a fresh round of outreach on what they can do to cut water use.
Good luck with that "education" effort. Unfortunately, California does not have in place any statewide system of water restrictions to regulate usage, thus making the current worse, as water managers scramble on an ad hoc basis to deal with ever decreasing supplies. Emergency regulations were voted upon and passed only in July by the The State Water Resources Control Board, long after Governor Brown declared an emergency in January. And those regulations, which began August 1st, are only temporary. Unfortunately, scientists are telling the state that the drought is likely to continue through 2016.
“We have to do a better job of managing groundwater basins to secure the future of agriculture in California,” said Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which largely funded the UC Davis study. “That’s why we’ve developed the California Water Action Plan and a proposal for local, sustainable groundwater management.”
Failure to replenish groundwater in wet years continues to reduce groundwater availability to sustain agriculture during drought -- particularly more profitable permanent crops, like almonds and grapes -- a situation lead author Richard Howitt of UC Davis called a “slow-moving train wreck.”
“A well-managed basin is used like a reserve bank account,” said Howitt, a professor emeritus of agricultural and resource economics. “We’re acting like the super rich who have so much money they don’t need to balance their checkbook.”
Seems to me that train is picking up speed. So who is best situated to continue to get their share of California's dwindling water resources? Billionaires, for one:
Many mornings, just before 7 a.m., a large tanker truck pulls up to the grand gates of Oprah Winfrey’s 40-acre estate in Montecito, California. Inside is neither merchandise nor produce – just water. [..]And though some have cut back on their usage, others have blithely paid fines for violating local water restrictions, including the Biltmore Four Season beach resort. The city of Montecito estimates that revenue from those fines will exceed $4 Million this year alone when all is said and done. And then there are those who are quite willing to go to court to fight for their water rights.
These days, tankers can be seen barreling down Montecito’s narrow country roads day and night, ferrying up to 5,000 gallons of H20 to some of the world’s richest and thirstiest folks.
But the plight of this unincorporated community offers ironies—and political lessons—that are as rich as many of its 13,500 residents. The wealthiest ‘burb of Santa Barbara county, and indeed one of the wealthiest enclaves in the United States, Montecito is home to Google’s Eric Schmidt, Warren Buffett’s partner Charlie Munger, entertainment mogul Tom Freston, director Ivan Reitman, and stars Ellen DeGeneres, Dennis Miller, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Rob Lowe with George Lucas and Kevin Costner owning adjacent beachfront homes. Or, as one local realtor puts it, “just about everyone in the industry.”
According to public documents, the biggest residential user for 2012-13 was Pat Nesbitt—CEO of Windsor Capital, majority owner of Embassy Suites—who has long sought to convince local officials that his polo field, which is part of his 20 acre estate, is entitled to a discounted agricultural water rate. And he’s sued the Montecito Water District—twice, according to the water district’s attorney—to make his case.
Meanwhile the poor and people who are not yet considered poor enough are suffering the consequences of this historic drought. The question is not who will get hurt, but how many and how bad will the cost be for California, one of the major drivers of the US economy and a source of much of its produce and other agricultural production?
As the state endures one of the worst droughts in recorded history, Southern California residents are looking for answers about the sustainability of the region’s water supplies. Farmers have felt the sting of below-average rainfall for years, but as the crisis worsens, urban and suburban areas are likely to suffer drastic change in their relationship with the vital liquid.
Wildfires and brown lawns may be increasingly common visual symptoms of drought, but unless the rains return to the Golden State (and stay awhile), Southern Californians can also expect to see food and water prices rise, battles over water rights intensify, and, likely, water use increasingly restricted. [...]
Propublica has rounded up a nice summary of the devastation this drought is wreaking on California, its citizens and the rest of our nation.
After a decade of relatively little rain, California is facing its third year of debilitating drought, and 2014 may be the driest in 500 years. The drought has placed a $44.7-billion-a-year agriculture industry, drinking water for millions of people, and some 204 cities located in high-risk fire zones in jeopardy. In January, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency and in July the California Department of Public Health said at least eight communities could run out of drinking water without state action. The State Water Project also shut off its supply to major urban and agricultural water districts for the first time in its history.
California is the nation's largest state economy and agricultural producer, and so the state's well-being affects the entire country. [...]
Yest even in the face of this catastrophe, some groups oppose legislative action to ameliorate the effects of the drought.
(Reuters) - A package of bills aimed at regulating drought-parched California's stressed groundwater supplies has come under fire from agricultural interests, injecting doubt into the measures' fates in the waning days of the state's legislative session this week.
The bills, which would allow the state to take over management of underground aquifers and water accessed via wells, tighten oversight of water at a time when groundwater levels are shrinking in the third year of a catastrophic drought.[...]
“This could be the largest piece of water legislation regarding water rights that people in legislature will vote on in their career,” said Justin Oldfield, lobbyist for the California Cattlemen’s Association. “Should they really make the decision in such a short time period?”
Such a short time? Really? If anything, decisive action on this issue has waited far too long. Yet if opponents are successful, the bills will not be passed before the August 31st deadline, the last day of California's legislature's session this year. California is literally being pumped dry as I write this to meet the needs of industry and whoever else can get their hands on whatever groundwater resources exist, for now. Meanwhile, the poor are suffering, as demands for food and water put a strain on charitable organizations, such as food banks.
Local community food banks and pantries are feeling the effects [of the drought], as well.
Many farm workers and other agriculture-related employees have been laid off. There are not enough tomatoes, almonds or watermelons for them to harvest, transport on trucks, or process in the canning factories. As a result, these individuals are showing up in increasing numbers at local food banks and pantries for assistance, said Jody Hudson, operations manager for the Fresno diocese's Catholic Charities headquarters.
"Our numbers are starting to climb. Last week we were serving an average of 190 to 200 families a day at the Fresno site alone," Hudson said in an email.
In order to serve families living in outlying areas who cannot afford gas money to drive to town, Catholic Charities has set up several mobile outreach sites in Fresno, Merced and Kern counties.
Well, so long as wealthy tech CEO's, celebrities and other One Percenters have theirs, who cares, right?