The drought is becoming one of the most pressing statewide issues currently going on. Awareness campaigns, watering fines, mandatory restrictions, etc. have attempted to gather the collective attention of a state that faces perhaps the biggest natural emergency in its history. Due to the recent winter rainfall and cooler temperatures, residents may be at ease thinking that the drought is a thing of the past. Unfortunately, this could not be further from the truth and the consequences could be substantial.
George Morrow, the Director of Utilities for the Azusa Light and Water company, works directly alongside Southern California local governments as an active member of the drought. The words of this seasoned water employee paint a picture that extends far beyond what we may perceive as “alarming.” Throughout this dissection of the current and future drought, Mr. Morrow’s words will speak to a truth that many citizens living in this area have never considered: Just how bad can it get?
In addition to pondering the current and future severity of the drought, many Californians are simultaneously wondering if the government is doing enough to change the prognosis of this situation. While the answer to that question is somewhat subjective, there is indeed clarity in the “one size fits all” (as Mr. Morrow put it) approach to solving the issues at hand. The best place to start in observing government action is with the largest, most recent objective: Proposition 1.
According the California voter’s informational website, “PROPOSITION 1 provides a reliable supply of water for farms, businesses and communities, especially during droughts. It supports economic growth and protects the environment. It is fiscally responsible, is guided by a comprehensive state water plan and does NOT raise taxes. Democrats and Republicans Agree: VOTE YES ON PROPOSITION 1!”
While the design of the proposition was angled to achieve each of these claims, the money needed to fund such an undertaking was needed to cover such a feat was around $750 million. The same voting resource website Californians also states,
“California can’t afford Prop. 1’s misplaced spending. It does little to relieve the drought or improve regional water self-sufficiency. It threatens our rivers and streams. Private water users won’t pay for these dams; taxpayers shouldn’t either. Prop. 1 drains funding for schools, health care, roads and public safety. VOTE NO!”
Although it was opposed by a large body of politicians, the proposition was passed in November, allowing the state to begin working on building substantial infrastructure. According to recent government documents, the state has already began funding the massive project.
The passing of Prop 1 may just be the image boost that Governor Brown and company wanted to be better perceived by Californians. However, the logistics of Prop 1 do not seem to add up just as well as the governor initially declared. According to Morrow, “The timetable for Prop 1 is completely ineffective. It’s purpose is to aid in future droughts. And, if we are being honest, those theoretical droughts should not be our biggest priority.” Morrow’s words lead to a somewhat covered truth; although construction has begun, the infrastructure that Prop 1 created will not be finished for years to come. Additionally, the passing of the proposition does absolutely nothing to aid in replenishing or conserving the current, scare water supply. So, the initial takeaway is that the government has perhaps not produced the impact that is necessary to make progress. In fact, a look back at recent national legislation shows a similar trend of giving a lot and only getting a little.
In early 2014, Congress signed the National Integrated Drought Information System, (NIDIS) back into law following an eight year hiatus. The purpose of the NIDIS is to provide statistical and meteorological information to residents across the nation, all in an effort to summarize the current state of drought. This bill was a direct attempt to start professional, scientific water monitoring across the nation. The NIDIS is divided into six sections across the country, and, not surprisingly, the California section is the most active.
The California map models show that 40% of the state is categorized as “exceptional drought,” the
most intense of all levels. Additionally, 37% of the state is in “extreme drought,” the second most intense category. This compiled information exemplifies a state that is in severe need of change, and right away. While this sort of information helps with awareness and understanding, it serves its biggest purpose by informing citizens of the impending dry future, rather than preventing it.
So, the government stands by the fact that it has taken measures to assure California a future beyond the restrictions of a drought. However, the measures taken are almost entirely passive in that they do not actually affect the water supply. Plain and simple, the repercussions of this lack of action has the potential to drastically change the way we live as residents of California.
When asked about the future and just what it may look like, Morrow’s face began to switch expressions; he physically showed signs of discomfort and his tone of voice dropped an octave or two. He first reply to the question was simple, direct. “Things were looking real good through December, due to the rainfall. But now, after the dry January, things are not looking good…really not looking good.”
Currently, the city of Azusa, in addition to other surrounding cities, is in what is called a phase III water restriction plan. This means that households are paying around $2.29 per CCF (centrum cubic foot) of water. Residents have also been asked to reduce water consumption by 20%, a request coming directly from the governor himself.
The current regulations dictate that a $50 minimum fine will take place after a household fails to follow the reduction standards. Cities around Southern California have maintained very publicly that no exceptions will be made to get around paying the fines.
Despite the local governments “forceful requirements,” less than $12,000 has been collected since the fine system was put into place. This number comes from a water department that serves over 110,000 customers. The truth of the matter is that water users are almost always “warned after the first few offenses without any real hassle,” according to Morrow.
This lack of current enforcement has the potential to have quite the profound effect on tomorrow’s California. The Department of Light and Water has a long-term plan put in place, completely preparing for what is to come. As Chet Anderson of the Light and Water company, and fellow associate of Morrow put it, “we take action based on the facts in front of us. When we feel it is time to take things to the next level it is because of serious research and thinking.” So what are those next steps that are going to be taken?
Realistically speaking, Californians may be observing water bills exceeding $1,000 within the next five years. Beyond that, water suppliers will begin the process of observing the number of residents that live in each household. Morrow says, “eventually, there won’t be a choice any more. After all of the restrictions have been exhausted, we will literally have to ration water per citizen. you will get how much you need to live, that’s it.”
Once the topic of California’s future was on the table, Morrow continued on down the line of potentialities, very, very realistic potentialities. “Cities will begin to stop developing altogether. Some cities are already began limiting or halting new housing developments simply because we will not have the water supply to accommodate.” The immediate effect of such a transition is a clear and direct negative impact on the economy.
The idea of people having to migrate away from Southern California due to lack of basic life-sustaining resources may actually happen within the century. While Morrow and the rest of the Light and Water Department reassures that every possible step will be taken to prevent this from happening, the original questioning of the government’s action comes back into question.
The water supply is diminishing, weather conditions are not improving. During a time of such severe crisis it only seems natural that citizens look to their local and statewide government for help. Thus far, the state has chosen to take “insufficient” measures despite their public decree that things are moving in the right direction. The final question to ask is not whether or not conditions will worsen, but rather when they will worsen and what concrete action will the government take in response. Because without a proper response, who knows what the outcome may be?