¶ … turning on the taps and nothing comes out. It wasn't like that yesterday, but today, there's no water. Maybe they're doing work on the pipes and you missed the memo, right? You call the city, and ask when it will come back on. They tell you it won't. There's no more water. They're going to truck some in so people have something to drink while they pack, but that's it, the water's gone and it's time to leave. This isn't a fantasy situation. It has actually happened throughout human history, usually when we do not have the technology to manage our water supplies. The problem is that today, even with all we know about water management, we are still facing this very situation in our lifetimes, in major cities.
California has had a drought for the past four years. Even before the drought, the state was using water at an unsustainable pace. It gets a lot of its water from the Colorado River, which is highly stressed, and from underground aquifers. Those aquifers are almost dry, and they take millions of years to replenish, and the Colorado River cannot give up any more water -- it hardly ever arrives at the ocean as it is. So where will the water come from to supply California? And where will we get food from, if we can't get it from California anymore?
This is in one sense a very simply problem -- California does not have enough water and the...
The state is likely to continue guzzling water at unsustainable rates until it simply cannot do so any longer -- that is to say when the last drop is gone taps are literally dry. In another sense, it is very complex problem because there are a number of critical water users, because so many people depend on the state for food, and because of the state's status as an economic power -- you cannot simply relocate tens of millions of people without completely disrupting the American economy.
If water shortage is the macro-level problem, it has to be understood in two parts. The first is water usage. There are 39 million people in California, making it the most populous state in America. It is also a major agricultural heartland, sustainable or not, and that complicates the usage problem because so many people rely on California's agricultural product, which so happens to be a major water user. The dairy industry is the biggest user of water, but realistically dairy products are ubiquitous in our society. Even if everybody stopped drinking cow milk and started drinking almond milk, almonds come from California and take a lot of water to produce.
So while demand is very high, and a seemingly intractable problem given the population of the state and its water usage patterns, the supply is also a problem because California has relied on non-renewable water sources, and is at capacity for the renewable ones. There are no easy solutions.
The first part of the solution is therefore to admit the problem -- as of yet serious acknowledgment of the need to change the patterns of consumption has not occurred. The solution has to mean restructuring agriculture towards products more suited for the climate -- the drought will end eventually but this is desert climate for the most part, not suitable for water-intensive crops or dairy cows. The second part of the solution is twofold. First, new short-term sources of water need…
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