California is going through the worst drought in recorded history and Californians are acting out in some crazy ways. Cities are running out of water, the governor declared a state of emergency, farmers are cutting deals with the state, politicians have prophesied God’s wrath, neighbors are snitching each other out, celebrities are getting lawn-shamed, and one guy even thinks the drought is fake and that we are facing a Hunger Games situation.
First, let’s catch up on where we are now. The U.S. Drought Monitor says that 95% of California is currently enduring a Severe Drought to Exceptional Drought. This is the most severe California drought in the last 1200 years. Twelve. Hundred. Years. Twelve hundred years ago a 15 million strong Maya civilization ruled Mesoamerica. The Maya incidentally disappeared off the face of the earth in almost an instant, due to climate change, but I digress. A 2015 Stanford study predicts that the drought may be here to stay. Bummer.
So, what are we going to do about it? What can we do about it? Some people are going cray.
1. Cities like Fresno are running out of water and some Fresnans don’t care.
California is now home to the top nine cities in the country that are running out of water. East Porterville in Tulare county has been out of water since August 2014. This is a place where the temperature can rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Of the top cities running out of water, Fresno ranks fourth in the nation.
The New York Times spoke with Fresnans Ron and Donna Fena, who have a swimming pool and a koi pond in their backyard. The Fenas said they use (only!) 14,000 gallons per month and follow the guidelines on weekly watering. As an owner of just one of the many sprawling mansions on East Shepherd Avenue decorated with “impossibly green lawns, fringed with koi ponds, Japanese maples and roses,” Donna Fena gets real. “People are focusing too much on lawns,” she told the Times. “There is still a lot of water around.”
That’s great news! Where is all this water and what do other Fresnans have to do to get some?
Ms. Fena explained that “California’s surface water goes to keeping rivers flowing and other environmental needs, like sustaining fisheries and also preventing endangered species like the delta smelt from becoming extinct.”
“I like fish, but I’m not giving up my lawn for some smelt,” Ms. Fena said. “Let those fish die up north. There’s a cycle of life.”
Ohhhkaaay. So, your solution is to use all the water from “up north” until all aquatic life goes extinct starting with delta smelt? I suppose every living thing up north should suffer a slow, dehydrating death so your lawn and koi pond may thrive. Hold on...aren’t you “up north” from someone else? I’m sure it doesn’t matter because I heard there’s a cycle of life, whatever that means.
2. A California Assemblywoman summons the wrath of God.
Assemblywoman Shannon Grove may be going crazy from the drought—David Lee Roth, anyone? Assemblywoman Grove serves in Bakersfield, #9 in the top nine cities in the country that are running out of water. In response to the curtailing of some farmers’ senior water rights by Governor Brown, Assemblywoman Grove offered up her theory on the drought at a California ProLife Legislative Banquet. According to HR Reality Check, Grove stated that “Texas was in a long period of drought until Governor Perry signed the fetal pain bill. It rained that night. Now God has His hold on California.”
Yes, she suggested that God would stop the drought if California passed an anti-abortion law. I could probably stop here, but let’s give Assemblywoman Grove the benefit of the doubt and take her theory through to completion. What happened after God’s main man, Rick Perry, signed HB 2? Over Memorial Day weekend, Texas suffered devastating floods that killed dozens of people, destroyed hundreds of homes and caused tens of millions of dollars worth of damage. Sounds like something a wrathful God would do, but, it doesn’t really sound like He’s on the Assemblywoman’s side. Maybe Grove didn’t catch up on the national news before she gave her speech almost two weeks later. Honest mistake. How’s that Bill working out for Texas? Last Monday, the Supreme Court blocked the Texas abortion law ruling. Ouch. Now that’s what I call “a sign.” I guess even the Almighty is getting pretty sick of politicians taking away women’s rights.
After facing much criticism over her speech, Grove backpedalled and said the comments were taken out of context. But she did offer these existential words of wisdom on her Facebook page, “Is this drought caused by God? Nobody knows.” The comments on this post are out of control, btw.
3. Farmers are battling each other for underground water.
Farmers are going crazy looking for more water. Many are digging wells due to the lack of surface water. As a result, neighbors are competing against each other in an all out war for water. Basically, the person who digs the deepest well gets the water. Farmers are spending millions in an effort to survive the growing season. There are so many wells being dug that California is actually sinking. That’s right, the ground is falling and the damage may be irreparable. This map from the New York Times shows places where the land has dropped over 21 inches. Crazy.
4. A small community in Southern California responds to the drought by using more water.
Southern California is also feeling the heat, but some of the wealthier homeowners are actually doubling down on water use. According to data from a 2014 report by the California State Water Resources Control Board, residents of the Santa Fe Irrigation District use five times as much water as average coastal Southern California residents. Here are a few crazy things that residents of Rancho Santa Fe have said about the drought:
Laura de Seroux a 14-year resident of Rancho Santa Fe said, "It's an affluent community...People have gardeners, and they just don't pay attention. They don't clean their own houses. That's the way it is here."
Some residents of Rancho Santa Fe are taking steps to make their properties more drought tolerant. However, Robert Schaefer refuses to take that extra step, like giving up 100 lemon trees. "We like that rural look around here…Rancho Santa Fe was first started as an agricultural community. There are lots of big homes with lemon groves. We enjoy it."
Haha. It’s a blast and good times were had by all. Actually, it only seems like you enjoy it.
I know. You’re thinking, “but that was last year.” I’m sure Rancho Santa Fe residents have read the awful stories about entire communities completely running out of water and watched as the news reports extremely dry conditions and fires breaking out across the state. There’s no way they’re still being this douche-baggy. Right?
The Washington Post went down to that very same town with the “rural look” and spoke with some more Rancho Santa Fe residents.
Tax paying citizens like conservative talk radio host Steve Yuhas argues on social media that “If you can pay for it, you should get your water. People should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful.” In an interview, Yuhas said, “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live, and, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”
Really? Steve, you’re one crazy bastard.
On a lighter note, Gay Butler, an interior designer out for a trail ride on her show horse, Bear, defends her community:
“I think we’re being overly penalized, and we’re certainly being overly scrutinized by the world; It angers me because people aren’t looking at the overall picture,” Butler said. “What are we supposed to do, just have dirt around our house on four acres?”
Butler furthers her point by reasoning that “You could put 20 houses on my property, and they’d have families of at least four. In my house, there is only two of us, so they’d be using a hell of a lot more water than we’re using.”
Whaaaaa? Ok. I seriously do not know what she is talking about. Anyway, what are top water wasters, err...I mean top water “users” like Rancho Santa Fe residents going to do now that the state is requiring them to consume 36 percent less water? According to a new report that came out in early June, Rancho Santa Fe had increased its water use by 9 percent. Oh, right, they’re still going to act like dicks and they’re still crazy.
Even some of the more reasonable residents in Rancho Santa Fe are a bit out of touch with reality.
Take Randy Woods, he was “feeling burdened by his lush, landscaped two-acre estate — replete with two waterfalls, two Jacuzzis, a swimming pool and an orchard” and opted to downsize a year ago into a condo. Woods goes on to explain how the drought is ruining his community's property values. His girlfriend whose house has rare palm tree specimens, a secret garden and turret-shaped hedges finds them to be a liability rather than a selling point. And yet another friend has seen the value of his nine-acre plot plummet from $30 million to $22 million.
5. Celebrities continue to water their lawns and the lawn shaming movement begins.
If you really love to hate celebrities, than celebrity lawn shaming is for you. Yeah, it’s a thing. Basically, there are these aerial photos showing some of the most opulent celebrity homes in Los Angeles served up with a side of “shame on you.” Through the lense of our current drought, the stark contrast between the emerald green properties in a sea of California desert is unbelievable.
You can’t really blame the media for calling out the celebs. They’re just keepin’ ‘em honest. However, if you want to take shaming to a whole new level, try Twitter and just search #droughtshaming. Now, you too can be part of the shame game and indict your neighbor, friends and/or family. You can finally get back at that guy down the street. You know, that guy that always has loud parties and never invites you.
6. Are you crazy enough to anonymously shame someone? There’s an app for that.
DroughtShame was created by Dan Estes who told NPR, "I think like a lot of Angelenos, I'm a little freaked out by the drought, it just seems like something has to be done to avoid a long-term catastrophe." Estes does have a good point, but his solution leaves something to be desired. Where does the information uploaded to his app go? Is this information going to the right people so they can enforce laws and educate enfractors? Dean Kubani, sustainability manager for the City of Santa Monica, says, "It's not getting through to us and we're the folks doing enforcement and education about this."
Rogeoa8 states in the app’s comment section that, “This is just the beginning. Time to get out of Cali as they redesign it into the Hunger Games-esque sustainability ‘paradise’ of your nightmares. Not to mention that most areas have 10 YEARS of ground water, not much of a real ‘drought’ if you ask me. Wake up.”
Shame is the name of the game and other apps like VizSafe also offer all the public shaming without any of that awkward face-to-face neighborly interaction. Even cities are getting on board. Santa Monica’s app, Go SMGov, isn’t all about water wasting; if you have a question about parking or trash pickup, if you want to report seeing a pothole, graffiti, a burned-out streetlight or leaf blower use, then this is the app for you. Similarly, the Los Angeles app, MyLA311, allows you to report leaks, request graffiti removal and pay your water and power bill.
7. Californians are making wise decisions about water use to ensure that water is available for generations to come.
This may be the craziest one of all. In spite of all the negative press most Californians are stepping up to the challenge and conserving water. It's nice to think that we are all unique and independent individuals, but as crazy as it may sound, we are an interdependent society and the choices we make actually affect other people.
Probably some of the craziest things Californians can do:
• Eat less meat.
It takes anywhere from 4000-18,000 gallons of water to produce one hamburger. The US Geological Survey explains that “[t]he number also varies depending on how far back in the production chain you go. It takes a lot of water to grow grain, forage, and roughage to feed a cow. Water is also needed for drinking supplies as well as for servicing the cow.” (Other side effects of eating less meat include: better health, less toxic waste runoff, less environmental degradation in general and the joy of knowing that your children won’t hate you when you’re dead).
• Learn how our global neighbors are saving water and work together in order to plan for long term sustainability.
The good news is that Los Angeles is starting to do this. Within five years, Australia went from one of the highest per capita water users, second only to the US, to one of the most efficient. How did they do this? Australians installed millions of rainwater catchment cisterns across their cities. In an interview with Fortune, Andy Lipkis, founder of Tree People, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that promotes planting and caring for trees, restoring healthy soil, conserving water, and harvesting rain, discusses how Californians can do the same.
“It means capturing and then treating the water that flows off our roofs and down our streets each time it rains. There are a lot of ways to do so, including by removing concrete and replacing it with permeable earth to soak in the water like a sponge. And homes and businesses can install rain bins and cisterns to hold the water for later use. Melbourne was able to get 35% of all its homes to install cisterns. The same thing is possible in Los Angeles and any city in California. There’s reason to be optimistic because these ideas are starting to catch on. The Mayor of Los Angeles just announced...a commitment to get Los Angeles to source 50% of its water supply locally. Meanwhile, city councilmembers Mike Bonin and Felipe Fuentes just got ‘green streets’ legislation approved that will require any new road or repair to an existing road to include a way to trap and treat groundwater—a huge step forward. And at the state level, for the first time ever, our water bond included $200 million for rainwater harvesting.”
• Publicly #droughtshame someone you love.
Noooo! That’s a terrible idea. Help family and loved ones cut water use by having constructive conversations. We are all in this together, so fix grandma’s leaky faucet, help Aunt Edna plant some native plants in her yard, don’t let the faucet run when you brush your teeth, shave or do the dishes, take shorter showers and if it’s yellow let it mellow.
Even in the face of this historic drought, there are still steps we can take to ensure the long term sustainability of our water supply. When it comes to water, humans are equal. We all need it to survive. Unfortunately, we are not all born into equality. To thrive in the future, we must come together to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges and create a free and equal society where vital resources are shared by all.