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Just in time for summer: Drought heating up California’s water war
Dennis Wyatt new mug
Dennis Wyatt

Get ready for the main event.

And instead of having a ringside seat you’re going to be in the ring duking it out and fighting for survival.

It’s the ultimate California war.

It’ll make locals dynamiting canals and Los Angeles using trickery to steal water from farmers in the Owens Valley seem like a lovefest.

And if all goes south — general conditions as well as actual water to the SoCal region — it will be a fight to stay alive.

The day of reckoning that 39.5 million people were blissfully ignorant of not simply being a possibility but of being inevitable has arrived.

California is in a severe exceptional drought.

It’s exceptional measured in precipitation levels that have been below average and on a downward slide for three years.

Sure, there is water still in reservoirs running about half full.

But this is the start of the hot season.

As we siphon reservoirs down there will be less and less carryover storage for next year.

A fourth year of drought won’t bring them back next June even to the low levels they are at now.

No problem, right. We’ll just stick more straws in the ground.

Take a look at NASA imagery showing the incredibly shrinking California aquifers over the past 50 years.

Drop by Corcoran, the San Joaquin Valley city that in the past 14 years has sunk 11 feet in some places.

There have been spurts of subsidence occurring where the entire first floor of a two-story house was swallowed up over a relatively short period of time.

Long story short, underground waters sources are already dropping due to over pumping. Sticking more straws into the ground or sucking up more through those already in place will make things worse.

This is a disaster of a different kind.

It’s not a wildfire, earthquake, flood or even hurricane.

It slowly sneaks up on you.

It’s not like a wildfire where you may wait until the last possible moment to evacuate.

In a drought waiting until disaster is upon you gives you no recourse.

When the wells run dry and reservoir bottoms are reduced to cracked cakes of dried mud, there is no way out.

This brings us to the challenge we now face.

Convincing people to back off on frivolous or unnecessary water use.

It is clear that rationing as defined by per person water use per household is next to impossible to implement or enforce.

At the same time there will be denial.

The grass will still be green — at least in front of most homes.

The water is still flowing when the faucet is turned on.

So, what’s the problem?

Once it’s gone it’s gone.

Then there will be deflection.

We need to build more dams.

We need to rethink water rights.

We need to alter water distribution.

We need to stop growth.

Those all may be valid points, but it’s kind of like a firefighter quizzing you on whether you have a smoke detector, left a candle burning, or had faulty wiring instead of handling the clear and present danger of your house being engulfed in flames as they speak.

Come to think of it, if the drought deepens it could get to the point a 9-1-1 call regarding your house being on fire might involve such a response.

So how is California — or more specifically cities like Turlock — going to get people to back off on water use?

This isn’t just an exercise for the sake of being an exercise.

The 20 percent mandatory cutback is designed to hopefully keep a cushion in place.

It is also a gamble that certain factors that reduce water availability don’t worse beyond a point.

But if they do, the state is ready to go into 100 percent survival mode with a game plan to impose a 50 percent mandatory cutback in water use.

Keep in mind most of the easy, mindless stuff is in place.

Low-flow toilets.

Low-flow shower heads.

Water efficient washing machines.

That doesn’t mean they can’t be used more efficiently.

Yellow is mellow may become the mantra for toilets.

Shorter showers may become the norm.

Full loads in washing machines may be needed.

There is only one low-hanging fruit left that can assure the delay of the worst-case scenario of household water requiring putting buckets under shower heads to repurpose water to wash dishes.

That low-hanging fruit is ornament grass watering.

Even more specifically it is the prevalence of non-native grass unsuited for California’s Mediterranean climate.

They are water hogs.

For the most part they are eye candy. The manicured front lawn with grass blades cut so short that can burn roots in the California sun unless they are watered constantly feeds no one.

There are more water efficient ways for dust control and eye appeal.

The “Leave It to Beaver” front yard works well in the Midwest, on the Eastern seaboard and in the South where it rains almost every day. Those same grasses imported here over the past 150 years could be the death of California as we know it.

We’d be wise to stretch our water supplies. Great civilizations have perished because of water becoming scarce from misuse as well as the ebbs of the natural cycles over the course of thousands of years.

The current prohibition of watering commercial, industrial and institutional ornamental turf with potable water must be enforced.

The adding of more ornamental turf in the front yards of new homes must be banned.

More responsible watering of existing residential grass must occur and must be enforced.

And if the drought continues to deepen and supplies continue to shrink, we will have to stop watering front yard lawns altogether.

The year 2030 will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the six-year slow moving disaster known as the Dust Bowl triggered by a severe drought.

Unless you have no qualms channeling the Joad family of Grapes of Wrath fame, you might want to start treating water like the precious commodity it is.