California is facing a drought of epic proportions and combatting it won’t be simple when you consider the sheer size of the state. With all of its territory, running from Oregon down the entire west coast, statewide cooperation is complicated, to say the least.
But the California drought is so bad that Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered residents and businesses to cut water use by 25 percent until 2016 (and some areas by 35 percent), in the first statewide restrictions in history. But will it be enough? Let’s take a closer look at what it will really take to cut water use in a big way.
1. Drip Irrigation
While Gov. Brown is asking residents and businesses to cut their water use, it should be noted that 80 percent of the state’s water goes to agriculture, which is not facing such restrictions due to the impact that would have on food production. Without irrigation, the state would dry up and with it the fertile Central Valley. But using drip irrigation, similar to what is used in drought ridden countries like Israel, would drastically reduce water use. Drip irrigation allows water to slowly drip to the roots of crops through a network of piping. Currently, irrigation in the state is done using the hugely wasteful method of flooding fields, which doesn’t make much sense considering the California drought is expected to last years, if not decades.
2. Water Recycling
Two treatment plants just outside of Sacramento filter millions of gallons of grey wastewater through pipes that irrigate the homes of 4,000 residents. It’s called water recycling and it’s a method that could be used to irrigate agriculture. Other communities are working on systems that recycle local water for lawns but in Southern California, Gov. Brown is even talking about turning human wastewater into drinking water.
3. Transitioning Out of Meat and Dairy
It’s a dirty little secret that much of California’s water, some 47 percent, is used to produce meat and dairy products. The longterm drought picture means taking a stern look at these water intensive industries, especially when they also contribute to the drought’s main cause, global warming. Animal agriculture uses 34 trillion gallons of water annually.
4. Stop Fracking
The drought is causing people to take a closer look at another particularly water intensive industry: fracking. Nearly all of the hydraulic fracturing sites are in extremely water stressed areas. Most of California fracking is done in areas that also have high agricultural water demand. Plus fracking techniques and oil drilling techniques are water intensive because the oil is hard to get out. Water has to be injected deep underground to boost production.
California needs to move toward choosing more water efficient landscaping. This means choosing compatible plants and water efficient irrigation systems. Plant varieties would vary from one part of California to another, depending on the soil and water resources available. Choosing compatible plants also means less use of fertilizers, which can also impact water quality.
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Image of the California drought from Shuttershock