THE LONG VIEW – California water conservation/capitalism doesn’t flow

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Reacting to yet another long, persistent drought, California is aiming to reduce its water consumption by 25 percent. Standing on dry grass in some of the Sierra Nevadas left uncovered by a disappointing winter snowfall, Gov. Jerry Brown announced new water use restrictions with the admonition, “It's a different world. We have to act differently.”

Reacting to yet another long, persistent drought, California is aiming to reduce its water consumption by 25 percent. Standing on dry grass in some of the Sierra Nevadas left uncovered by a disappointing winter snowfall, Gov. Jerry Brown announced new water use restrictions with the admonition, “It's a different world. We have to act differently.”

Early reviews of the Governor's plan are mixed. Some say his proposed cutbacks do not go far enough. Others suggest his conservation programs ask too little of agriculture and industry while requiring too much of municipalities and individual households. Pretty much everyone agrees consumers will soon pay more for almonds, avocados, strawberries, and other thirsty Golden State produce exports.

One wonders how this essential issue will be resolved. Water is, after all, a necessary component of life.

For generations, Angelinos and other Southwesterners have struggled and stretched to collect enough H2O to serve their burgeoning ambitions. As communities perpetually grew in what is essentially arid desert, water solutions were always just a reservoir, aquifer, or far-off river away.

But now, with too little rain falling for too many years and the possibility the Southwest US may, in fact, be ending a few hundred years of above-average precipitation, it looks like the dehydrated chickens of water scarcity awareness are coming home to roost, at least in sunny southern California.

Or maybe not. The population in and around L.A. continues to grow. Lush greenery is transplanted daily into SoCal golf courses and housing developments. And, as a quick trip to the local grocery store will demonstrate, water appears plentiful and ready for the squandering.

Making this resource just another retail commodity, bottlers lure us with the promise of waters implying health benefits. If water is good, alkaline water must be better. And if that is better, how impossibly wonderful must water be when enhanced with ionic minerals, electrolytes, calcium, and even xylitol (a sugar alcohol purported to be good for one's teeth and gums)?

In fact, there on your grocer's shelves are bottles filled and exported from incredibly distant sources like Poland, India, Norway, Fiji, Iceland, France, Serbia, Croatia, Italy, Wales, Germany, and many more. But you will also find hydration solutions enticing packaged and shipped from much of America, including Washington, Louisiana, Tennessee, Nevada, Maine, Arkansas, New York, and, yes, dry-as-a-bone California.

How is it that major corporations can draw and bottle precious liquid from the state's almost empty bucket and sell it at tremendous profit? Perhaps for the same reason California agriculture— which guzzles 80 percent of the available water for human endeavor in the state—is exempted from irrigation sacrifice while generating just 2 percent of the state's gross domestic product.

Meanwhile, the acreage devoted to water-intensive crops like walnuts, alfalfa, pistachios, and pasture grass – used to fatten livestock – continues to increase.

The Governor's water-use restrictions are a start to sustaining California's populace and way of life. But until the corporate consumption of water is confronted—and this invaluable resource is no longer treated like a big-business-as-usual, there-is-money-to-be-made commodity—the state's long-term prospects for prosperity simply do not hold water.

Pat Grimes, a former South Bay resident, writes from Ypsilanti, Mich. He can be reached at pgwriter@inbox.com

THE LONG VIEW – California water conservation/capitalism doesn’t flow