June 17, 2014
Our Wet Drought
I've been teasing friends and family that global warming has done wonders for northern California. The summer has been sunny and hot (for northern California). Little rain. Gorgeous Mediterranean meals at 6 pm after work. Plums, blackberries, peaches, and tomatoes -- all ripe for the picking and eating.
Alas, nobody has hesitated to remind me that dry days are upon us, and Mike Madison writes in today's Sunday Times that we should remember that the first year of the drought is always lovely:
[T]he first year of a drought is a gift to the farmer. Our apricot trees flowered under clear skies, the bees did their job, and in June we harvested a record crop. I sold fresh apricots, I dried apricots, and my wife put up 800 jars of apricot jam: straight apricot, apricot with lime, apricot with saffron. The other crops in the district -- olives, walnuts, almonds, plums -- are on the same track, heading for a record harvest.
But there is a dark side to this. If the first year of a drought is a gift, the second year is a worry, and the third year is a crisis. That crisis has a twist to it. In the third year, the lakes and reservoirs are empty, and not only is water in short supply, but so is electricity, for with empty reservoirs there is no flowing water to turn the hydroelectric turbines. We get power failures that frustrate irrigation and every other sort of industry. The farmers age a lot in those years.
Of course, as Madison notes, we don't know if this is the first drought year of many to come or not. Such is weather: it is the last thing we humans seem to control on earth, save ourselves.
A close friend has kept saying to me, "Why don't we have gray water systems? Everyone in Germany does!"
Aside from pointing out that Germany is ahead of us on everything cool, not just gray water systems, I didn't have an answer. But her point was spot-on: why isn't there a concerted effort to conserve all this amazing water we have rather than draining down our reservoirs?
I think about our house times 35 million other Californians. We use clean drinking flush our toilets and water our lawns. Why not recycle the water from our showers, laundry, and dishwashers?
Conservation is, I'm sure, only part of it. But some of these things seem so easy -- a bit more up-front labor and investment when building homes -- it's just amazing we don't do them.