When nature turns off the tap

I try to be upbeat and even a little funny when I type these columns, but now I’m going to be a bit of a drip and get serious.

I try to be upbeat and even a little funny when I type these columns, but now I’m going to be a bit of a drip and get serious about the wet stuff.

Although fun to do a rerun of our trip to San Francisco, what really sunk in for us was seeing firsthand how bad the withering drought situation was, and how grim it was getting there.

When nature turns the taps off for that length of time, the dominoes start to fall pretty fast and the consequences were clearly visible, such as the deep ‘bathtub ring’ of Lake Shasta, dried up stream and river beds, grapevines and orchards being pulled out, fields lying fallow and the parched earth as we crossed the Central Valley.

“America’s salad bowl has now become a dust bowl,” read a headline, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg compared to what else is on the sunshine state’s plate.

California has many existing and looming environmental fronts they’re facing besides this record drought, such as unsustainable population and resource pressures, poorly managed agricultural land and irrigation practices, serious soil degradation and elimination from development and bee colony collapse, just to name a few. What’s really worrisome though, is that the excessive extraction of water from the pumping out of the massive ice-age aquifer lying under the state. It is causing a colossal sink hole that’s dropping at a drastic rate of at least a foot a year, in turn creating chaos by crumbling homes, cracking roads, twisting railway lines and messing up the vital irrigation canals that run throughout the countryside. To top it off, rising oceans are threatening to roll into critical inland estuaries that provide key sources of fresh water to wildlife, humans and agriculture – Florida included. A perfect storm may be brewing for a total food and environmental catastrophe, and millions of people will be up the creek without a paddle if they – and we – are not somehow prepared for it.

The shame and blame game has been going on for years and will continue to get mired in the mud due to political interests and economic drivers, such as the billion-dollar tourism and wine industries. For example, we had a bull session with a local about water usage in their supposedly sustainable wine-growing valley, who angrily stated that homeowners were getting hosed because backyard food gardens had been banned in order that the vineyards – a major source of tax and tourism income for the town – could have it instead. Now a state-wide rationing of 25 per cent per home has been declared, which is just a drop in the bucket because the farmers – who consume at least 80 per cent of it – are excluded. Yet they’re one of the worst sources of the problem.

The rains may return and the oceans may cease to rise one day, but immediate and emergency measures will need to be put in place, such as constructing dikes to stem the tide, more desalinization plants for drinking water, legislating strict regulations on irrigation practices (maybe even mulching through mandatory food, farm and yard waste recycling, which would make total sense), eliminating unsustainable food crops and water-wasting plants and lawns from the landscapes.

Going too may be the luxury of a green fairway, backyard pool, fountain, long shower or the leisurely Sunday car wash. Who gets the water and how much, plus what it’s going to cost may get ugly, and even plunge the lower-income families and farmers into debt or forced departure.

Rains are the watery lifeblood for the thousands of tons of nuts, fruits, vegetables, meat, grains and rice that are grown and raised there. Indeed, two out of every three meals eaten in the U.S. come from California.

We rely heavily on those crops too, and our food security experts are now describing the situation as alarming if the agricultural output begins to pack it in to the point where there’s not enough to share.  What this will mean for us is a seriously destabilized food supply with major price hikes to boot. It also means we’ll be left even more high and dry if we don’t protect and support the survival of Canadian food growers and, especially, our local farmers and seed suppliers. If things get really rough, then every household food garden is going to count too.

So if you catch yourself mumbling ‘rain, rain go away,’ then remind yourself it’s better than having to pray for life-giving rain like they are. Going against the flow of nature never works out well for us, and we humans tend to learn the hard way. The lesson here is if we abuse it, then we might just lose it – and then what?