Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Saving the Planet, One Drop at a Time

It's Earth Week and we here at the Cheapskate Urban Gardener are in full agreement that we need to pull together to save our home.  Since we're in California and in a severe drought, we're going to focus on that, try to sort the myth from fact, and try to determine how we can be effective and responsible gardeners in these dry times.

We're going to start off with the big picture and work our way down to the effects on our local garden.

The headlines are scary...California has less than a year left of water; almonds are sucking the state dry; environmentalists won't let us use water because of the damage to insignificant species; farmers take 80% of the water and won't do anything to help.

But those are just scare headlines written to sell papers.  I've been going through weather statistics, state water board sites, and other sources to try to separate fact from scary headlines.

Let's make one thing clear at the start, however. Yes. This is a serious drought. No. It's not the first time this has happened to us. Yes. It's because it hasn't rained. No. It's not some politician's organized campaign to regulate our water and get more money (although there are those who 'never let a crisis go to waste' as the mayor of Chicago is famous for saying.

California actually has about two years worth of water in storage. With the state's increasingly stingy water use due to water restrictions, that time estimate can also grow.  In a real emergency, there are also decades of water storage in the ground but over pumping also causes other problems. Right now, reservoir levels are at about 40% when on a normal year in April, they'd be at around 65%.

Rain has actually increased just a bit over last year.  Fresno is an inch above last year, L.A. an inch and a half, San Francisco has doubled last year's total of 8 inches, and deserty El Centro has barely added half an inch. Since the rain year runs through June, and rain is forecast for this week, those totals will surely rise but odds are against them getting up to average, which is 11.5" for Fresno; 14.93" for L.A., and 3.44 for El Centro. San Francisco has a fighting chance to reach it's average of 20.78" though.

Not all of California's water comes from California. For very large parts of the southern end of the state, water is supplied by the Colorado River, running down from the Rockies. It's watershed snowpack is about 62% of normal right now.

Farmers currently use about 40% of the state's water, about half of the 80% many stories put out. Residential users are a little more than 10%. Most of the rest is for environmental uses, such as keeping wild and scenic rivers flowing, wetlands preservation, and habitat for various species.

One more myth...Los Angeles is a desert. No, Palm Springs, Mojave, Blythe, the Salton Sea, and Needles are the desert. Most of the Los Angeles area is naturally oak-studded grassland and is naturally green about half the year. Turning our lawns to gravel, like they do in Arizona, is not an answer but we could let them fallow for awhile in dry years.

Rain is pretty much a sure bet to return to the state, the big question is when and what do we do until then. Water is still necessary for a number of uses in this large, heavily populated state that supplies a huge chunk of food for the country and the world.

Next time, we'll explore some of those uses.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sources: Bay Area Science Forum
California Department of Water Resources
Metropolitan Water District

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