In News

by Camille Herrera
Guest Blogger

A systems-thinker, Camille Herrera draws connections from positive developments in environmental sustainability to larger business and social contexts. She uses her research and partnership development skills to gain consensus, plan, and implement projects; and her knowledge of sustainable materials management to support waste reduction not just at the end-of-life but upstream as well. She attended WEN’s panel discussion on December 9, 2015, “What Would a Fifth Year Drought Mean for California,” and wrote the following article in response:

Almonds Are Not the Problem – December 11, 2015

I want to share with you some insights from an amazing panel I heard on Wednesday night on what the 5th year of drought means for California. Hosted by the Women’s Environmental Network, it included four experts, each with different experiences and perspectives.

To start us off the panel drilled down to the basics of why this drought is of more concern than past droughts. The drought isn’t unusual in and of itself (it’s one of the American West’s long-term climate patterns) but it’s exacerbated by an increase in temperatures—the cause of which is unrelated to the drought. The rise in temperatures is due to global climate change.

With the stage set, here are the top 5 takeaways that you can use when figuring out how your organization can tackle the drought challenges through behavior change, infrastructure, or advocacy measures.

  1. Almonds are not the problem. In parts of California, there’s been a shift from annual crops (alfalfa, lettuce, etc.) to permanent crops (orchards). With annual crops, if you know it’s going to be a drought year, you can choose not to plant. But with permanent crops, there’s been a huge investment in trees with a life expectancy of 20-25 years. So almond farmers face a choice, pay a lot of money for water to keep their trees alive, or lose their trees.
  2. Neither are cows. Or farmers. Or you, or me. We all use water. Certainly an almond farmer is using more water per day than I am in my 450 square foot apartment or for my company’s services. But we all use water. Think about it, every single thing in your office or home required water to make. Pick up the first thing at hand. Water was used either directly (growing, cooking, processing) or indirectly (heating, creating energy) in its creation. As Caitrin Chappelle, Associate Director at the PPIC Water Policy Center explained, by focusing on finding a villain, it makes it hard to come together and work on holistic, long-term solutions.
  3. Starting in California in 2020 groundwater will be regulated for the first time. That’s right. There’s no regulation of California groundwater at this time. Some counties in California don’t even have water meters. Meaning that if you were a resident of such a county, you would pay a flat rate for water—no matter how much water you used. As Dr. Christian-Smith, a Climate Scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, “Our current California water system is operating as a bank account where we don’t know who’s writing the checks.” But once we know exactly what and who is using water, we’ll be able to measure and adjust, the same way we’ve started using the real-time information we get from our energy meters. Whoohooo!
  4. The reason we haven’t seen as much innovation around water as we have energy is because we haven’t created the conditions to allow markets to develop. There are amazing innovations happening! Like the atmospheric water condensers. But so far regulators have not been able to figure out how to investment or financing such innovations. To counter that, Jamie Ormond, Advisor to CPUC Commissioner Catherine J.K. Sandoval says that we can expect to see a big push politically for financing for funds for the public benefits of water in the next few years.
  5. Don’t waste a good crisis. It’s not great to be in a drought combined with climate change, but the reality is that the drought makes water and its management a priority. There’s a lot of momentum towards changes in behavior, legislation, and infrastructure that can only help us in the long run. It’s great! If we have a few wet years, water won’t be a priority, and we’ll be facing this situation again and again.

On an individual level you know the drill. Turn off the tap when you’re brushing your teeth. Take shorter showers. Let go of your lawn. But what else can you or your organization do? The panel recommended three things

  • Learn where your water is coming from (hint, start by asking your utility)
  • Learn what kind of infrastructure is used to bring water to your workplace Investigate, is water reuse, aka greywater, an option?
  • What would it take to implement that infrastructure?

As Newsha Ajami, Director of Urban Water Policy with Stanford’s Water in the West said, “Think about energy ten years ago, and how far we’ve come. Think about what could be possible for water ten years from now.” Source: New feed