What’s that, Governor Brown? You requested subsequent actions that should be taken if drought impacts worsen? Here are some that I don’t think your Drought Task Force will bring up with you. Some of them blur the line between drought response and climate change adaptation, but I’ll suggest them anyway.
- Train CCC members to fix dripping sink and tub faucets. Stock some trucks with nuts and washers and have corpsmembers available to do free housecalls to anyone with a dripping faucet. Sure, homeowners should fix leaks themselves, but I bet it would happen a lot faster if it were offered as a free service.
- See if you can get the Feds to pay for a bunch of district-level system modernization, from district level leak repair to SCADA systems.
- Since CDFA is so motivated by drought and loves to hold hearings so much, maybe they can chase down some food waste, either in the field or in produce distribution systems.
- Create and advertise mental health services for ranchers and farmers. Ranchers in particular commit suicide at higher rates when they have to cull their herds for droughts.
- Get assessors in the field to price the damage to public infrastructure from subsidence. Keep a tally and bill growers proportionally for the damage their pumping causes. Maybe the state can’t regulate groundwater pumping, but subsidence is damaging the highways, overpasses and canals on the west side. The 5 isn’t sinking because I drive down it twice a year; I don’t see why the costs of repairing it should come out of the general fund when we know who is damaging it and how.
- The early estimates are that half a million acres will be fallowed this year (of about 9 million irrigated acres in the state). We can assume those are the most water-insecure ag acres. The folks at UC Davis predict that about 1-2 million irrigated acres will come out of production in the San Joaquin Valley. I’m on record predicting 3 million irrigated acres statewide will be retired in the next couple generations. We should use this drought to figure out the least painful way this can happen. If we believed this were coming, what would we do? Decide which million and a half acres we want to retire in the SJV? Does the state want them? Are they the current owners’ responsibility when no one will buy them later? Will banks end up owning them? Should they be managed? Is there salvageable capital on them? Is there some scale at which they are useful for solar power? This drought is an early look at a scenario heading our way. Does the State have or want a role in managing it?
- Define food security. Surprisingly, for someone who argues against Westlands WD all the time, I really do take food security seriously. I think California should protect its growing capacity and would support some interventions to do that. But, I’d want a lot of clarity about what food security means. Growing calories for direct consumption for Californians (truck crops)? Growing field crops for animals that Californians eat? Providing calories for the western U.S.? Providing animal proteins to the western U.S.? Providing wine and pistachios to the world? I value food security enough to do things like zone agricultural lands against incursion or subsidize growers to be resilient against droughts. But I wouldn’t give up one smelt so that the new middle class in China can have cheaper walnuts.
That should keep your Task Force busy, Governor Brown. Let me know if you need any other suggestions. Oh, last thing. Do not waste any time looking for ‘lessons from Australia.’ I heard an awful lot about Australia during the last drought. Their circumstances are different enough that nothing was useful. If your staff wants to research Australia, that means they are shying away from politically difficult situations here. Australia does not have magic answers for us.
Two more (1/23)
- In the comments on an L.A. Times article, someone suggested using this drought to dredge silts and sediments that are filling reservoirs. It won’t give us any new water in this drought, but where it is something that has to be done anyway, it’ll never be easier.
- Here are two early stories of water districts who are raising rates in response to drought, but have to go through a burdensome 218 process. Districts will be looking at higher rates if they have to pump deeper groundwater, if they want to put conservation pricing in place, if they usually offset water prices with the proceeds from selling hydropower, if they have to buy the next increment of more expensive water from somewhere. During the drought, Prop 218 shouldn’t be another hassle for them to negotiate, slowing their response time.
- Override any HOA requirements for green lawns. At the least, declare that HOA’s cannot fine homeowners for complying with district-issued watering restrictions. At the most, have HOA’s require greywater systems for xeriscaped landscapes. My preference would be to destroy the HOA structure entirely (fucking conformist busybody authoritarian assholes) but that may be out of the scope of a drought response.