Dry Times

05/04/2015 03:55 pm ET | Updated May 04, 2016


The more I read about California's drought, the more it feels like an episode of TNT's Dallas reboot. Are the hazards of fracking akin to those of groundwater drilling? One contaminates it and the other depletes it. And in case depletion doesn't scare you enough, now groundwater drilling is collapsing the Central Valley. As Claudia Faunt of the US Geological Survey told 60 Minutes late last year, "So much groundwater has been pumped out here that the geological survey says it's causing another problem: parts of the valley are literally sinking."

When we ask ourselves, "less food or less water?", the answer gets very complicated very quickly. California produces over 90% of the nation's supply of broccoli, avocados, celery, artichokes, walnuts, plums and other major agricultural crops, all of which depend on water from the Central Valley. It should frighten all of us, then, that the most recent drought map shows the Central Valley as one of the most water-barren areas in the country.

Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech, wrote an op-ed in the LA Times that Californians only have a year of water left, so those still in denial about 'Droughtmageddon' better wake up. In California and elsewhere, people want their irresponsibly long showers just as much as their irresponsibly inefficient Hummers. Water may have replaced oil as the natural resource cause célèbre, but at least we can live without fossil fuels.

We're all experiencing sustainability and conservation fatigue on an unprecedented level, whether we're talking or listening to someone talk about these problems. It's understandable, but we need to remember that realistic solutions are within reach. Fortunately, the state legislature will remind us with the new water restriction laws that were passed earlier this month. They'll probably go further than the frightening op-eds, anyway.

Of course, people who run their faucets while brushing their teeth aren't monsters. Most of us could benefit from a mandatory course in water literacy. And while the new commercial and residential water restrictions may not turn average Californians into Greenpeace activists, they can't hurt. Our collective prayers for rain aren't working. Instead of praying, fix those leaks, take shorter showers, let it mellow if it's yellow, and use reclaimed water for landscaping. We ought to know better than to beg for ice water in hell.