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Guest Commentary

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Jerry Budrick
05/16/2014 6:26 PM

By Wendell Peart

Guest Commentary

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines drought as a “period of dryness”

There are two kinds of drought: one caused by a diminished rainfall and the other caused by man. California’s Owens Valley is a prime example of the latter, in that man’s activity of draining the valley for its water resulted in turning the area into a dry, dusty, desolate landscape, devoid of its natural beauty.

Don’t you find it interesting that, up until now, the discussion has been about the lack of rainfall for the last three years, but nothing much has been said abouit how man is ravaging the water supply. This process is occurring in two ways: the drilling of water wells, causing a depletion of groundwater; and the use of surface water for land use development.

Participants at the Drought Hearings of 1991 were pretty much in general agreement that, when push comes to shove, municipalities should receive the highest priority for the use of water. Arnold Whitridge expressed the sentiment of many of the attendees about artificial drought, caused by man. “The Trinity River,” said Whitridge, “has been in an artificial drought for almost three decades. The circumstances there have given us both the opportunity and the incentive to assess whether exported Trinity water is, in fact, being reasonably and beneficially used.” His statement had all the earmarks of a warning that another Owens Valley was in the making.

What, exactly, is reasonable and beneficial use? The answer about the best use of water is found in California’s Constitution, in Article X, Sectioin 2: “The general welfare requires the water resources of the state to be put to the beneficial use to the fullest extent of which they are capable and the waste or unreasonable use or method of use of water be prevented.”

Since it is generally accepted that the municipalities have the highest priorities, how well are they using water? In a word, it appears, “wastefully,” but that is rapidly changing. An article in the Sacramento Bee on April 1, “Latest drought prompts some to rethink lawns,” sheds light on the new trend that is emerging in California cities.

Roseville is a case in point. For example, a “1,500-square-foot lawn surrounded by 375 feet of plants,” that is common to California cities, would use about “45,653 gallons of water per year.” If this same area is planted in drought-tolerant plants, the water needs would be about “12,338 gallons of water per year.” This would represent a savings of about 73 percent. This new approach of efficient use of city water by Roseville has had some impressive results. Lisa Brown, director of the city’s new water-efficient program, states that “at least 500 homes” enrolled in the program produced a savings of “an estimated 14 million gallons of water annually.”

This saved water demonstrates rather starkly that, if Roseville is typical of most California cities, the municipalities of the state have been grossly misusing their water.

Water saved by the cities could be directed to the farmers. The farming industry is in desperate need of this wasted water.

When you think about it, city dwellers could care less about the terrible plight that the farming industry is

experiencing, yet these same city dwellers will cry and complain bitterly about the high price of food, particularly the price of vegetables. Urban residents could help not only themselves, but the farmers, as well, by having their officials divert the saved water to the farming industry. Such a praiseworthy effort would be in keeping with the State’s Constitution, which reads, “The water of the state shall be put to the beneficial use to the fullest extent.”

When water is put into such context, other water users, such as fish, will have to take what is left. The answer is because it is the population increase that is causing the immediate problem and people must have water. And let’s not forget, they also must have food.

One measure of sincerity is to test our legislative leaders and request that they also share in the hardship the current drought is causing. The lavish green landscape that surrounds the State Capitol should be turned into a drought-tolerant landscape — permanently. How can those who would lead us know what it is the rest of the State is experiencing, unless they, too, know what it is to experience the same pain?

There is much talk about helping the economy. et nothing is done on the part of the municipalities to send their lavish use of water to the farming industry. Why is this ? Sacramento is a prime example. Sacramento could replace the lawns of the city, just as Roseville is doing with drought resistant plants and send this saved water down to the Delta. This saved Sacramento water, once in the Central Valley Canal, could be directed to the farming industry. Such a commonsense approach would do much to help the farming economy and, in turn, help hold down food prices.

If history is any guide, commonsense is not common to the few who govern the many of us. (To be continued ... .)

Wendell G. Peart, DVM, is a former member of the Amador Water Resource Advisory Committee.

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