CA Studies Conference: Our Current State of Drought

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Amber Mallett
Contributing Writer    

As many of the campus’ lawns begin to brown, the USF community’s conversation about the California drought has grown louder. This past weekend, the University held an official forum to facilitate the discussion.

On Saturday, Oct. 24, USF held the 25th annual California Studies Association Conference, “Parched: Dry Times in the Golden State,” covering major political, social, environmental, and economic hot topics on California water resources and the drought.

“We need to stop acting upon consequence,” said Leticia Corona, a Policy Advocate for the Fresno-based Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability.

Since water resources are readily accessible in cities like San Francisco, the drought’s impacts may seem partially dismissable. Leticia Corona brought social and economic issues hitting DACs (Disadvantaged Unincorporated Communities, generally small rural towns) throughout the San Joaquin Valley to the audience’s attention, however. Without abundant water, it is difficult to build up the necessary infrastructure such as housing and transit because companies see such cities as poor investment opportunities.

As a result, communities are affected tremendously. Issues tied to their lack of water include: contaminated water systems, unaffordable water rates and increased unemployment. Corona referenced current action of wealthier cities refusing to connect low-income communities to their water systems, yet another example of controversial water allocation due to governmental regulation. The solution rests in investment and enforcement of mitigation measures to focus on the equality of politicians, conservation partners and DACs, alike.

Anona Dutton, Vice President of Erler & Kalinowski, Inc., spoke about major policy changes in recent years and the evolution of water planning. Dutton used the term ‘design drought’ to emphasize our need to to be adaptable in times of drought. California is entering it’s fourth consecutive year of drought, so Dutton emphasized the importance of applying new approaches to water management.

“It may be a matter of behavioral and awareness changes,” said Anona Dutton. Aside from the political fight to secure clean, reliable water, she believes that it is up to the citizens to start taking issues seriously.

The federal government has taken aggressive action in granting a $7.5 billion water bond to California. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is another strategic plan that is taking steps towards efficiently utilizing the 40 percent of groundwater California has to offer. The controversy of the debate is that California has one of the biggest water storage and transfer systems in the world. The water is here, but it is not being utilized efficiently. As a result, much of the water is not being distributed to those who need it most.

Richard Walker, Professor Emeritus of geography at UC Berkeley made one thing clear, “our problems with water are centralized around capitalism, not global warming alone.” Walker explained that droughts are very normal, and that to some degree, they can be predicted. He implied that the reason we are facing associated issues is due to the fact that California has not yet invested in appropriate planning.

“It’s not just about you,” said Richard Walker. Agricultural water consumption is around 75 to 85 percent, urban use around 20 to 25 percent, and bodily uses (i.e. showering) merely accounts for less than 10 percent of the state total. To be effective, Walker suggests California focus on the regulation of massive agribusiness in the Central Valley. He said, “Capitalism dominates the state and agribusiness is brilliant at marketing.”

The conversation also touched on the drought’s local impacts on our ecosystems. Cleo Woelfle-Erskine, postdoctoral researcher of environmental science, policy, and management at UC Berkeley, introduced our social responsibility to preserve the health of natural systems throughout severe drought. The main issue is that human water use is intensifying stream intermittency, meaning that there are irregular and unpredictable changes in natural streams throughout the year. Approximately 90 percent of these habitats have no fish at all.

Woelfle-Erskine said, “Freshwater ecologists should feel free to ask for water to stay in streams and to put an acre-foot on that volume.” By recharging these systems, multispecies communities may be given a second chance to thrive. Woelfle-Erskine spoke about the importance of tracking household’s water usage data to conserve water and ultimately designing a policy to aid these cutbacks.

USF has stepped in to combat the drought and our water consumption. Richard Hsu, USF’s Sustainability Coordinator, is calling upon USF students to take matters into their own hands. A few of the programs being initiated include: hosting educational events, reducing power usage by idle devices (i.e. laptops), adding more bike racks, compost bins, and recycle bins on campus.

Although issues range far and wide on our current state of drought, local efforts remain an integral part of the solution and USF is doing its part to educate students about the urgent state at hand.

Photo courtesy of Racquel Gonzales/Foghorn

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