Our state’s population now exceeds 38 million, which is 12 million more than the next most populous state, Texas (which is much larger in area). And too many of us believe that bigger equals better. Bigger houses. Bigger flat screen TV’s. Bigger burgers. And Americans are literally the biggest people in the world.
Our economy is built on growth. Every business wants more customers and more profit. Every employee wants a bigger paycheck and more benefits. And so on it goes. And California is projected to continue to grow.
California’s growth began to accelerate with the gold rush which began in 1848. A new golden frontier with beautiful coastlines, mountains and a mild climated–beckoned. (There were a few pesky Indians, too.) Ummmm, but not much water–especially in the most desirable areas. And so began various projects to capture and divert water from other places, so that new cities could grow. Two of the largest began in 1913–Hetch Hetchy (which supplies water from Yosemite to San Francisco), and the LA Aqueduct (a major source for Los Angeles water). To sustain a new population, you need a steady, reliable source of water. And so we got very good at pumping water out of the ground without really knowing how much was there, and what the consequences would be.
Because of the bigger is better mentality, politicians fought for water. After all, a city can’t grow without water. After a long battle with environmental groups like the Sierra Club, the beautiful Tuolumne River in Yosemite was dammed and the water pumped to San Francisco. Meanwhile what some call “a strategy of lies” enabled Los Angeles to acquire water rights from the Owens Valley.
The very fact that California has some of the most productive farmlands in the world should make you pause. Farmland in a desert? Farms grew and grew, partly because water was cheap (sometimes free). But those days are over. Last year, farmers in the Westlands Water District (Fresno area) had to pay $1,100 per acre-foot, an eight-fold jump from the year before. I’m all for California farming. Hey, I’ve got a small farm myself (but maybe I shouldn’t?). New rules need to be put into place to both monitor and limit water usage and measure and reduce poisonous runoff.
So you see California has always been short on water where we need it. We just did not want to spend the money to make a stronger long-term plan that would support our rapid, enormous growth. Now, it’s time to pay up. Water has been an underappreciated resource for decades.
There is no solitary villain here–not the Delta smelt, not the bottled water companies, not the farmers, not the golf courses, and not the big manufacturers. And it’s not your front lawn, either. It is us–greedy human beings who wanted immediate gratification and no desire to invest in planning and infrastructure. Just look at our crumbling bridges and roads.
We can’t conserve our way out of this when there is not much to conserve. We need big change and that will cost big money. We wanted big….we got it!