Few are taking the drought seriously

By Tim Johnson

Let’s be honest about this drought – we are not taking it that seriously. As a state, we have failed embarrassingly to meet even modest conservation goals. The best regions have reduced water use by about 10 percent while others actually increased water usage. Even the much–lauded dead lawn in front of the State Capitol is a couple of hundred square feet out of some 30 acres around the Capitol.

Farmers have made some cuts and shifted crops. In the case of rice, about 130,000 acres have been left unplanted in the Sacramento Valley. That’s about 25 percent of our crop. Impacts have been real; communities and our environment have been hurt. The biggest farm impacts are in the San Joaquin Valley. Many in ag, however, have oversold our plight in the hope that more pain would somehow translate into more water. It hasn’t. Instead we’ve gone back to relying more on groundwater.

The best guess today is that the Legislature has a 50/50 chance of passing a new water bond when they convene next week. Rationale spans from the cost of the bond to tunnels and a threatened veto by the Governor. Most stunning, there is even open talk of the Legislature voting to remove the 2010 water bond from the November ballot.

A review of recent studies and polling is stark. UC Davis reported in mid-July over $2 billion impact on the state as a result of the drought. The Public Policy Institute’s recent poll indicates that drought and wildfires are at the top of California’s concern with 35 percent saying water supply or drought is the most important environmental issue in the state.

Clearly, the impacts are huge and the concern is high. So why has their been no action? It seems to me that it comes down to putting the responsibility on someone else to fix the problem. Someone else will conserve water. Someone else will deal with groundwater. Someone else will invest in infrastructure.

In the drought of 1976, we all pitched in. We watered trees with buckets from the tub. We installed low flow showerheads and the whole lawn in every neighborhood was brown. (Unfortunately, the response in the Legislature then was much as it is today – temporary solutions to a long–term problem.)

From this day forward, all Californians need to be serious in our approach to the drought. Let urban users earnestly conserve water. Let agriculture be real about groundwater use and its long–term impacts. Most of all, the Legislature and the Administration should lead in passing a comprehensive water bond that addresses the state’s need for more reliable water from more sources than we have today.

Tim Johnson, CRC President & CEO