Last week, California Governor Jerry Brown officially declared California in a state of Emergency Drought. A dry spell in precipitation and record-low snowpack levels have devastated California’s aquifers, causing harm to the agricultural industry and increased water costs for urban Californians. In response, Brown mandated that civic water consumption be cut by 25 percent.
This is, at a glance, an incredibly daunting challenge. Many Californians are outraged because the mandates unfairly target civic water usage, which accounts for a smaller share of water consumption than agriculture.
Some have called for the agricultural industry to begin using water more efficiently, while others have argued that it is imperative to protect agricultural activity. Regardless, Californians living in urban centers have expressed outrage over Brown’s mandated cuts in civic water usage.
Whether these cuts are truly effective or not may be beside the point. Americans everywhere must face the reality that water is becoming scarcer in the United States and be willing to make sacrifices in their everyday water consumption.
Addressing the drought, there is a controversy over where major cuts in water consumption should be made. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, nearly half of California’s water consumption is from the agricultural industry, while only 10 percent of California’s water usage goes to urban centers. Therefore, major cuts in civic water consumption may not improve the situation.
California needs to protect its agricultural yields. A stupendous majority of produce in the United States is grown in California, so any major cuts in water consumption harm not only California’s economy, but the entire nation’s. Cuts in agricultural production could result in higher food prices elsewhere in the country.
On the other hand, Californians have a host of easy water saving strategies at their disposal. Whether reducing urban water consumption is the single most effective way is contentious. For example, the old ‘if it’s yellow, let it mellow’ trick (yes, that means not flushing after you pee) can save 3.5-7 gallons of water every single time you pee.
Shorter showers and high efficiency washing machines also help. Perhaps the most controversial water-saving strategy is for Californians to surrender their ultra-lush lawns. Brown has mandated that civic water consumption must be cut by 25 percent, which will be a massive challenge for California’s citizens.
Regardless of what is actually more effective, Brown’s decision should be lauded by policy makers and environmentalists everywhere. Cutting back water consumption places responsibility on the citizens of California. By doing so, Brown sends a message that his state will not stand idly by while its natural resources are depleted by overconsumption. In the future, droughts will become more widespread, frequent and severe.
Consumers across the nation need to begin to think about their responsibility in protecting water resources. Furthermore, the state and federal governments must begin setting precedents in water management that hold individual citizens accountable for their consumption.
Though the thought of making serious sacrifices in our daily lives is troubling, and even more so the thought of the government telling us what we can and cannot consume, environmental problems will come to be too severe for the American consumer to stand idly by while a think tank or government agency struggles to come up with a silver bullet solution to climate change. Responding to environmental problems is not, and will not, become any easier for America.
Our current water consumption may force Americans to replace our oak trees with cacti and junipers, picket fences with chain link fences, and our lush grassy lawns with gravel and sand; an image that is now burning itself into the psyche of the drought-ridden California suburbs. In the next century, Americans will remember California’s problems as the first major trial in the way the United States addresses climate change. How well California responds now may be foretelling of things to come.