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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Drought Report: It's Getting Weird

Posted By on Tue, Apr 21, 2015 at 4:40 PM

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Eighty-four-year-old actor, prolific tweeter, and all-around scootch William Shatner has a plan to fix California’s drought, and it might as well involve a warp core with dilithium crystals. Shatner wants to start a Kickstarter to construct a $30 billion pipeline that brings water from Seattle to one of California’s desiccated lakebeds. He might have been kidding, but David Pogue took him relatively seriously.

Closer to home, the SF Public Utilities Commission is already running an “Ugliest Yard in SF” competition. Whatever plot of dead brown grass that will presumably take the title had better forgo a swimsuit contest, because even mentioning a pool will likely be a disqualifier. “Brown is the new Green” is the slogan, which sounds like it could come from a hypothetical campaign in which our governor tries to outflank a challenger from the left.

While the issue devolves into silliness, there is a growing movement to accept that California is officially not a viable place to grow many things. Now that everyone knows it takes a gallon to grow a single almond, there seems to be something of a backlash against the nuts. However, Brie Mazurek of CUESA wrote in Alternet that not all almond farmers require thumbscrews for their water waste, noting that organic almond orchards can retain water well, allowing multiple crops to grow without the need for additional irrigation. While the agricultural sector needs to rethink its approach to water usage, it’s not as if we should be boycotting almonds and walnuts until they do.

Writing in Mother Jones, Tom Philpott makes a compelling case that the vestiges of the Cotton Belt, running in an arc from around Mobile (which is actually the wettest city in the continental US) to Virginia Beach, could become the new locus of fruit and vegetable production if California agriculture goes the way of Rust Belt industry. Virtually the entire Deep South receives at least 40 inches of rain per year, a figure that is not expected to change drastically as the climate changes and which is considerably higher than the non-mountainous regions of Washington and Oregon. Even if doomsday predictions of a mega-drought lasting until the fourth millennium don’t come to pass, it’s better not to have all our eggs in one bread basket, as it were.

Moreover, drought conditions may actually spread elsewhere. Montana is ranked as the likeliest to experience a statewide water shortage, but virtually every state west of the Mississippi (other than arid Arizona, oddly enough) is forecast to experience regional water woes in the next decade, according to Quartz. Even relatively water-rich states like Florida and North Carolina may not be immune. Texas, not always a model of enlightened planning and public policy, established a rainy-day fund after a crippling 2011 drought, and is doing all it can to prepare for a 2050 population that exceeds California’s today.

Imagine: 48 million Texans. The mind reels. Meanwhile, the Target Lady, Kristen Wiig’s bizarre SNL character who has been known to recuperate from minor mishaps by eating one-half of an almond, might have to comb the shelves for a substitute snack.
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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

Bio:
Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.

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