I grew up in Minnesota. The “Land of Ten Thousand Lakes” is actually an understatement; there are lakes in every corner of the state. Minnesota is also on Lake Superior, the largest great lake that actually holds more water than all other great lakes combined. It’s a wild, dangerous, cold, beautiful body of fresh water that feels and acts more like an ocean than a lake.
I’ve lived most of my adult life on the ocean or by lakes in New England. Abundant fresh water is a part of my life path. I grew up learning to care for our water but never did conservation mean so much as it does now.
Water has always been abundant in my life.
Now, I am reminded of my fresh water life just about every day as we end the summer of the seventh year of the most severe drought in California’s history. I remember droughts in the Midwest or New England but nothing compares to this. I would not have understood how extreme it is until I’ve lived through two year with less than 5-6 days of rain, totaling less than 5 inches.
Santa Barbara is a Mediterranean climate. It should be dry. But this drought is something else. For example: all fountains are shut down, people have signs in their lawns that say “gold is the new green” because they’ve stopped watering, people have removed their turf and planted with native plants or covered their lawns with wood chips, the hills are completely brown, many trees are dead or dying, our reservoir has 20% of the water capacity remaining, and fire hazard has been high for months. Yet, despite all these signs, some people still water their grass, others run fountains and you just don’t feel the extremes of this drought until you go away from the ocean.
As you pass into the Central Valley, you see miles of brown, dust storms, abandoned farm fields, and homes that have so little water that they must use port a potties for toilets. One day I drove through a dust storm that was so bad we had to slow to 25mph and put on our headlights. It’s extreme and this is where so much of our nation’s food is grown.
It’s easy to focus on war torn nations right now with so much violence in the world. Yet, in California people are suffering. Jobs are being lost, homes destroyed in fires, some farms can no longer grow food, and reservoirs are dry throughout the state. We have a crisis on our hands and while many cities have exceeded the 25% mandated water use restrictions, there just is not enough water.
We sit and watch the forecasts of El Nino; hoping that rains and snows will return but not in a deluge that creates more disasters like floods and mudslides.
In a world where climate is shifting rapidly, we need to plan for a future of scarcities and extremes. We are facing not only economic challenges but also will need behavioral changes in order to maintain the quality of life we expect in America. We also need to remember that already thousands of people no longer have enough water to survive in their communities.
We need to focus on innovation where water reuse and capture becomes a way of life. We need entrepreneurs who want to capture, recycle, and reuse water in ways we’ve never dreamed possible. Our future, our food security and our communities depend on it. We need solutions that are innovative and don’t increase our carbon footprint. Our future depends on brilliance and innovation. We can’t all live in the Land of 10,000 lakes so let’s work together to find sustainable solutions to water scarcity.
If you have not read it, dive into Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water. It will give you ideas on how others manage water. It does give a sense of hope. We can get through this drought. Our future will depend on innovation.