Water worries

In southern California it’s difficult to escape the water scarcity issue. In a place that is known for its go with the flow lifestyle, the approach to water is anything but. The flow has been manipulated and depleted to create the illusion of an oasis paradise in a region that is actually semi-arid desert. It’s a pretty realistic illusion, as any visit to a mall, park or (most devastatingly) golf course will prove.

There is a saying that in California water flows uphill, towards the $$$. In fact, 50% of southern California’s tap water comes from snow in the Sierras, over 400 miles away. A pretty massive 6.5% of the state’s total electricity use is related to the supply and treatment of water. The Los Angeles aqueduct brings water 338 miles from Mono Basin and 233 miles from Owens Valley to quench the thirst of the great metropolis. Aquafornia is a great resource for more stats and discussion of the political and environmental controversies surrounding the water problem. It’s a really interesting topic, and must surely constitute a time bomb for this state that produces so much food, and supports so many people.

Despite this great movement of water, 30 to 40% of SOCAL’s supply comes from groundwater – although how much longer this will last is uncertain. On farms I was surprised to see how ubiquitous the rickety looking windpump is – invented in 1854 to pump water from wells. Many are still wooden, with a multi-bladed turbine on top of a lattice tower – pure Little House on the Prairie throwback. Nodding donkeys, or pumpjacks, are also used for pumping water. I thought you only got these weird, yet captivating contraptions in Texas, but no. California also has some oil fields which use the pumpjacks too, so I can’t be sure what the ones in my photo are actually pumping…

There are efforts to conserve water in evidence – small signs in toilets and the odd public information leaflet, etc. However, these are a drop in the ocean when you look closer at the stats (forgive the pun). I guess there’s always desalination – and salty water is something southern California has in abundance. That’s just shifting the problem though because then you have to figure out how to power the process. Along with a bigger conservation effort, water reuse has to be the way to go – they’ve been doing it in Singapore for years. People may have to get a lot less squeamish, and authorities a lot more innovative, to support the growing population in places like southern California. 300 days of sunshine a year might be attractive from a lifestyle point of view, but practically speaking a little more drizzle may go a long way!

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