Opinion

Visit to California is eye-opener on severity of water shortage

A week-long visit to California was a great experience, primarily because the main purpose of the trip was to attend my son’s wedding in San Francisco. The city is truly one of the most beautiful in the world and it is a wonderful locale for a special event.

San Francisco brings in a lot of tourists. The city’s major attractions were packed with people from all over the world, and there was no better place to hear a multiplicity of languages than in one of the lineups to board the cable cars. Many people gladly stood in line to board the famous cars for more than an hour, and the long wait seemed to be part of the fun.

San Francisco, with its cool and often-foggy weather, is an anomaly in California. It gets rain regularly, albeit not too much at this time of year, and temperatures are moderate.

Travelling to other parts of the state reveal a different set of circumstances. It is hot and extremely dry. Many areas have received almost no rain for the past three years.

The central San Joaquin valley, where a wide variety of agricultural crops for export all over North America are grown, is coping with terrible drought and many farmers have had to cut back on the acreage they have planted, simply because there is so little water available for irrigation.

Everywhere you go, there are reminders of the need for water conservation. Low-flow toilets, sinks with automatic shut-offs and many other innovations are widespread.

There is some talk of major fines for breaking water conservation rules, although I am uncertain if much of that has come to pass.

I heard one story about a business that will paint people’s lawns green, so they can at least have the illusion of green grass. It’s a bit puzzling why that is so important, yet I realize we live in an area where grass never stays brown for long. We can count on rain.

California is the most-populated state in the U.S., with a population which is larger than Canada’s. Its gross domestic product makes it the eighth- or ninth-largest economy in the world. It is the state that  millions of people are anxious to move to. The  number one destination for refugees fleeing into the United States from Central America is California.

The overall sense I got during our short visit there is that, without water, that type of growth is simply unsustainable. There is clearly a major water crisis in most of the state. Many people understand that and have reduced their use of water. State and local governments also get it, and are bringing in regulations and doing things differently, attempting to address the issue.

But even if the rains come back on a  more regular basis, much of the state will remain dry. It has a hot climate. and much of the area where crops are grown, and where people live by the millions, is desert.

It is a good reminder why water conservation is important — just as important as using fossil fuels as sparingly as possible.

It also foreshadows the distinct possibility of extensive pressure on B.C. and other areas of the west coast for widespread water exports in the future.

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