Sunday, August 02, 2009

Green Is Gone

It's summertime, 2015.

I'm out tending to my front yard. It used to be grass but with increasing restrictions on water usage and a drought that has dragged on for years, it is now what we euphemistically call "California native."

That means it's dirt. We have some drought resistance plants - buckwheat, manzanita and the like - out front, but they don't begin to erase the memories of a green lawn dotted with begonias and zinnias.

You don't hear birds sing much any more. Nor crickets on warm summer nights.

We have a neighbor who tried to keep a bed of flowering plants going in a hidden corner of his back yard, but the drought cops - snoopy neighbors in this case - turned him in to the authorities and he was heavily fined.

There's no chance of that happening to me. I bricked over my back yard several years ago.

My work on this particular day consists of compacting the dirt out front. If I don't, it will blow into the house the first time a Santa Ana wind kicks up.

Afterward, I head for the shower. We are limited to three minutes of bathing time now so showering becomes an exercise in multi-tasking. With a little bit of skill, I can brush my teeth and shave at the same time I bathe. There's a bucket in the stall to collect extra water so we can use it in the toilet tank.

You can buy water around town but the prices have been jacked up sky high. The California legislature promised to deal with this type of thing but years have gone

by and the issue is still gridlocked by partisan politics.

Water isn't the only thing that's expensive. So are groceries. The drought has severely impacted the state's agriculture production and foods that were once commonplace are now hard to find.

Looking back, how did we get to this point? After all, the warning signs had been around for years.

"The U.S. West will see devastating droughts as global warming reduces the amount of mountain snow and causes the snow that does fall to melt earlier in the year," one study written in 2008 said.

"Our results are not good news for those living in the western United States," the journal Science reported that same year.

California may be at the beginning of its worst drought in modern history, state officials said in 2009.

One UCLA study warned that if the climate behaves the way it did the last time we had global warming, we should probably get ready to settle in to a more arid climate.

Glen MacDonald, the director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment, warned in 2005 that local officials were underestimating the likely duration of new droughts, which in the past century have not lasted more than about five years.

When drought struck, the burden fell on our residents. Most Southern Californians did the right thing and conserved. But even with restrictions and a willing public, Mother Nature was a tough foe to defeat.

Frankly, we had a lousy game plan.

Along with conservation, we should have been building desalination plants and made it easier to build them. Planning and permitting took 15 years for the Carlsbad Desalination Project in San Diego County. That's too long.

We should have encouraged the use of gray water by homeowners sooner. Gray water is nonindustrial wastewater generated from domestic processes such as dish washing, laundry and bathing.

For years, homeowners were forced by the state to build treatment centers if they wanted to use gray water for landscape purposes. It wasn't until 2009 that those restrictions were eased.

We should have done a lot more recycling, reuse and recovery.

We should have fixed a lot more leaky faucets and sprinklers.

We should have done a lot more planning and a lot less development.

But most important, we should have learned long ago that droughts are not a sometimes thing. They are a fact of life. And we should have learned to mitigate them before they struck.

No comments: