California’s water problem won’t be solved by shorter showers or browner lawns.
In Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order setting California’s mandatory water reductions in cities and towns, he called for 25 percent reductions in use that would save 1.5 million acre-feet of water1 over the next nine months.
By comparison, the city of Los Angeles uses 587,000 acre-feet in a year. In other words, L.A. would need to go completely dry for three years to cover Brown’s goals on its own.
California’s urban areas are responsible for only 10 percent of the state’s water use.
That's putting it starkly, But leave aside the problem-solving aspect for a minute, and look at these numbers as values, as shown by the amount of water we as a state/culture devote to them.
If forty percent of our water goes to agriculture, and ten percent goes to the cities/people, then where does the rest go? To the environment:
...50 percent of California [is] reserved for environmental use (maintaining wetlands, rivers, and other parts of the state’s ecosystem)...
Is this number a fluke? Arguably not. About a decade ago, among the "water buffaloes" who devote their lives to working out this issue, a conciliation was reach regarding reworking the water management in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
As many readers will know, this is where water is sucked into the State Water Project through enormous pumps. But the important point is, a consensus was reached, a decade or more ago, that the environment was put on a level playing field with our use, and declared a "co-equal goal."
As recounted by Doug Obegi of the NRDC, as of 2009:
Today, California's Governor is signing into law SB 7X 1, part of the legislative package to reform water policy in the state. The bill being signed today builds the foundation for a sustainable 21st century water policy, which is built on two interrelated principles:
Improving water supply reliability and protecting and restoring the health of the Delta estuary, and its native fisheries, are co-equal goals for Delta policy (See Sections 85020, 85054, 85300); and
In order to achieve these goals, the policy of the state is to reduce reliance on water exported from the Delta and invest in alternative water supplies, like water efficiency, water recycling, and low impact development. (Section 85021)
So, I think, one can argue that we have at least achieved our equity goal, here in California, even if we have all too little water to actually share.
To attempt to put this question in perspective visually, here's a (state) Department of Water Resources picture of one of the new pumps used to suck water out of the Delta and move it south.
These pumps, which wear out by the way, are driven by 80,000 horsepower motors.
As noted here a week or so ago, Ronald Reagan's close friend and confidant George Shultz published an op-ed declaring that if Ronald Reagan was president today, he would take action to restrain climate change. Along similiar lines, this week Reagan's biographer Lou Cannon published a tough warning about drought and California that began with a great/horrifying lead:
“The heart of the West is a desert, unqualified and absolute,” wrote prescient 20th century Texas historian Walter Prescott Webb. Nearly six decades later, the desert is returning to claim its own.
Cannon surveys the parched state, nodding at desalination, frowning at the exploitation of deep aquifers containing the water of thousands of years of rainfall, and ultimately concluding that California farmers are living "in a dream land"...and that the desert is coming back.
He didn't even mention the pictures of the dry Sierra Nevadas, as seen from satellites or on Gov. Brown's snow survey, or in charts. It's a scene depicted as amusingly as possible by Steve Breen:
Wenju Cai and colleagues report that increased land warming relative to the ocean and an increased frequency of extreme El Niño events, are setting the scene for these events every 13 years compared with a past frequency of one every 23 years. They use a collection of global climate models, selected for their ability to simulate extreme La Niña events, to investigate how the frequency of those events will change with global warming. The authors find that extreme La Niña events will increase in frequency and that approximately 75% of this increase will occur immediately following an extreme El Niño event. The implication of this is that weather patterns will switch between extremes of wet and dry.
Kind of like now, only more violently. What is the sound of a drought?
Tom Toles has an idea:
Disasters by their nature are enormously loud, chaotic, disruptive events. Think the scream of hurricane winds, the crashing of boulders in floods, the phenomenal roar of a huge wildfire.
Drought is different. Drought stays quiet. Its powers cannot be seen directly, save in the unblinking glare of the sun. Drought lacks drama.
Yet -- as one publication after another brings out a story about the megadrought stalking the West -- I cannot avoid the sense that we in California and the West face this new (to us) kind of disaster.
Countless stories have been written and will be written about it, but perhaps the best I've seen in the last six months or so came from Doyle Rice for USA Today under the head California's 100-year drought:
The dryness in California is only part of a longer-term, 15-year drought across most of the Western USA, one that bioclimatologist Park Williams said is notable because "more area in the West has persistently been in drought during the past 15 years than in any other 15-year period since the 1150s and 1160s" — that's more than 850 years ago.
We've all seen similar figures: the point is that USA Today and scientist Park Williams clearly put the question to us: if we are in megadrought, what is to be done?
The paper ran a fascinating interactive graphic available here, for the visually minded:
USA Today quoted a leading southwestern climate scientist on the question:
Rising temperatures would tend to favor more droughts, University of Arizona scientist Jonathan Overpeck said.
"It's been anomalously hot recently, which was not likely to have occurred without global warming," Overpeck said. "The odds are only going up that we could have a megadrought as the Earth warms."
So again -- what is to be done?
"If California suffered something like a multi-decade drought," University of Arizona climate scientist Gregg Garfin said, "the best-case scenario would be some combination of conservation, technological improvements (such as desalinization plants), multi-state cooperation on the drought, economic-based water transfers from agriculture to urban areas and other things like that to get humans through the drought.
"But there would be consequences for ecosystems and agriculture," he said.
That's what I'm interested in exploring and reporting, if I ever get the chance: the consequences not just to us humans, but for our landscape. What change is coming, and how do we prepare.
The USA Today story does inevitably turn to the question of climate change causing megadrought, and suggests that the jury is still out on that. That story was written last fall: six months later, the jury seems to be coming in with a "guilty" verdict for climate change and drought in California.
How do I know? The title of the last paper from a team of highly respected climate scientists at Stanford: Anthropogenic Warming has increased drought risk in California
Note that this measure of drought shows ours this century is not long...but very deep.
In his extraordinary speech at Selma this past Saturday, President Obama said something I've never heard any other American President say in forty-odd years. He lionized those who walked into this country without papers, looking for a better life. They were the "hopeful strivers," he said, part of the nobility of this country, and deserved mention with the marchers at Bloody Sunday at Selma, with James Baldwin, with Walt Whitman, with Emerson, as embodiments of "the true meaning of America."
Here's the central paragraph, this startling moment, where this thought is first heard:
The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge is the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny. It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot and workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon.
The whole speech is powerfully wrought and flawlessly delivered: a speech worth of our history.
Last year at this time I started working on a story about childhood obesity in a couple of small towns in Ventura County, and how different the picture looked in an upscale, mostly white town such as Ojai, where childhood obesity runs behind the national average of about 35%, and how it looks in the poorer, mostly Latino town of Santa Paula, where childhood obesity prevalence is among the highest in the state, at about 48%.
Interviewing the director of food services for Ojai's schools, I learned that she does not allow frozen pizza at all for her students eating school lunches, and did what she could to discourage parents from bringing pizza to after-school events. By contrast, I heard from a student at Santa Paula High, most students went for the frozen pizza at the high school every day.
Naturally I wondered if there was a connection to the high rates of obesity, but my adviser at USC/Annenberg's Health Reporting fellowship, discouraged me pointing the finger of blame at a single food for Santa Paula's obesity problem.
So my ears perked up when today I came across a characteristically strong but unusually wide-ranging column from Paul Krugman at the NYTimes, who argues that based on contributions, it's fair to say that Republicans are "the party of Big Energy and Big Food...and in particular, the party of Big Pizza."
Could caloric frozen pizza explain the obesity problem among kids eating free and reduced lunches?
It's rare to see a professional cook write an op-ed for a newspaper such as the Los Angeles Times, but Kelly Whitaker makes a plea for a fishery which I second from the bottom of my heart. I have made sand dabs for supper countless times because yes, they're irresistible. Please don't let them go away.
Help these fish survive by supporting this effort to bring them back, and enjoy a fine guilt-free dinner to boot:
West Coast groundfish are bottom-dwelling fish, including species such as Pacific Dover sole, ling cod, hake, Pacific sand dabs and dozens of rockfish species. They're usually caught as far as 200 miles off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington.
In 2000, this fishery was an economic and environmental disaster. Overfishing, coupled with trawling methods, so devastated the ocean floor that groundfish couldn't replenish their populations. Faced with losing this vital fishery, fishermen, regulators and conservationists came together to find a solution. In just 14 years with new management methods, including putting federal observers on every fishing vessel, the ecosystem has recovered. Using new technology and fishing practices, fishermen have learned how to protect the most vulnerable species.
While the fishery may have recovered environmentally, it hasn't economically.
Here's my experience, and my attempt to coax you into trying what might be a new recipe.
First, find some Sand Dabs. This may be as easy as going to your local fishmonger, of any sort, because this fish freezes very well and unfreezes easily, so it need not be perfectly fresh, to be truthful, although of course it's great if possible.
It's a marvel. You don't even need lemon. But let me recommend a ground-fish in particular, California sand dabs, which are much like Dover sole, but even lighter, fresher, sweeter. And in most cases cheaper, because it's a less known variety.
4 fillets, about 5 ounces each
Spread in a shallow bowl
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs, processed fine [yes, you can cheat on this item]
Dredge the fillets in:
Shake off the excess flour, then slip in the egg mixture and finely roll or pat in the breadcrumbs. Refrigerate the breaded fillets for 1 hour until dry. Don't let the fillets touch each while drying.
Heat in a heavy iron pan:
clarified butter, or oil and butter, 1/2 inch deep
When hot but not smoking, add the fish fillets and cook until brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. turn and cook until the other side is brown and crisp. Remove from the pan and drain on an absorbent towel or paper. Serve immediately.
(W/lots of options, such as adding herbs before breading. Cayenne or paprika in the flour. Lemon zest with the breading. Cornmeal instead of gluten. Oysters instead of fish. Fresh tartar sauce.)
Sometimes the simple things are the best.
Somebody had to defend the much-despised "gotcha" question.
Ron Fournier, veteran reporter, digs into the legend and finds all kinds of juicy examples. Writes it up with great depth and precision.
For example, where did the phrase "gotcha" come from? Fournier agrees with another reporter, and suggests that Bill Clinton might have introduced it into the political conversation.
In a brief history of the gotcha question, Washington Post reporter Colby Itkowitz recalls that Bill Clinton called queries about his fidelity "a game of gotcha." Obama dismissed as "gotcha games" the controversy over comments about Pennsylvanians clinging to guns and religion. Bush griped about "gotcha" questions when reporters asked about whether he'd used cocaine. Sarah Palin dismissed any question she fumbled as "a gotcha."
Clinton objected because it wasn't a policy question, but Fournier argues that even if it's not a question about policy, it's fair to test political leaders on simpler grounds. Do they have any common sense?
Years ago, an Arkansas governor named Bill Clinton walked into the state Capitol media room at the end of a hectic legislative session and asked the journalists if we needed anything else from him. We had asked Clinton questions all day. We were tired. We wanted him to shut up and go home.
So I said, "Yes, governor. I know you don't know much about baseball, but when there's a pop-up behind the third baseman, whose ball is it?" The other reporters snickered. Finally, they figured: a gotcha question Clinton wouldn't answer.
The governor bit his lower lip, lifted his eyes to the ceiling, and mulled. "Never played the game much," he finally replied, "but wouldn't the shortstop have the best angle on the ball?"
That innocuous exchange has stuck with me for nearly 30 years because it revealed much about Clinton as governor. He was ultra-accessible, intellectually fearless, and—more often than I liked to admit it—right.
An example: Another example: Fournier asked G.W. Bush at a big press conference with Vladimir Putin present if the Russian leader could be trusted -- a throw-away, "gotcha" question, in a press conference with Bush and Putin both taking questions.
I asked Bush the first question at a news conference in Slovenia with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Is this a man that Americans can trust?" My editor and I had scripted a meatier two-part question about the U.S.-Russia relationship. This was a throwaway line, appended hastily to the end of the substantial stuff.
"Yes," Bush replied, before allowing Putin to answer a separate question. A few minutes later, the American president elaborated: "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country."
Bush told his staff later that I had caught him off guard. I had put him on the spot. Not wanting to openly question Putin's credibility, Bush nervously riffed his way into a quote that still reflects the tendency of U.S. officials to underestimate the Russian leader.
Asking good questions in pressurized situations means asking short questions that demand good answers. These are all good examples of short questions that open big topics.
Ever since Aron Ralston got himself caught between a rock and a hard place in Utah’s Blue John Canyon, hung there for five days, and then amputated his right forearm to escape, going solo has gotten a bad rap. When his story comes up in conversation, someone inevitably proclaims that “Ralston was an idiot. Going alone is stupid.”
Such a person is someone who should not go alone into the wilderness. Ralston’s mistake, if he made one at all, was not that he went alone, but that he failed to leave word with someone of his likely whereabouts. I have gone out alone and told no one where I was going too many times to count. Is this behavior really reckless and irresponsible?
There was once a time when exploring the backcountry by yourself was seen as a primary path to understanding topography, both geographical and psychological. Our most cherished wilderness heroes—Thoreau and Muir, Leopold and Abbey—frequently went on solo adventures. Can you imagine free-spirited Muir leaving precise notes about where he planned to wander? In Walden, Thoreau’s manifesto about humankind’s relationship to nature, he writes, “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” Leopold spent weeks alone on horseback in New Mexico’s Gila wilderness without a second thought. And Abbey! He would have pissed on a personal locator beacon.
What’s happened in the last few decades? It feels as if the weight of technology has ironically pushed us back into the Dark Ages, when the wilds were believed to be so treacherous and malevolent that they could not be assailed alone. The modern mantra is you must go with a partner, or better yet, a group. But does that really get you where you want to be?
“Distrusting our capacity to be alone, we too quickly look to others to save us, often from ourselves,” writes Sarvananda in Solitude and Loneliness: A Buddhist View. This seems to me to be a clarifying description of our hyper-social age.
Simple as it sounds, to actually know yourself you must sometimes be by yourself.
Jenkins thinks through our doubts about going alone, and thoroughly, ultimately making clear that although honest-to-God he treasures going solo, and has good reason to trust his capabilities, still he's often grateful for company. Which no doubt is true, but methinks he dismisses as irrelevant the shame and fear with which many contemplate solitude.
Not sure he's thought that part of solitude through, in other words, Yet thank God for a popular writer who will stand up and say that yes, solitude is a human right, and, in the crowded 21st century, a rare privilege.
This weekend, with luck, will return to a pinyon pine I happened upon on in the Mojave last year and want to see again.
As one news organization after another has gotten on board the income inequality bandwagon, the graphics have gotten ever telling. Each seems to be competing to best tell the story graphically.
The WSJ had an especially good set of interactive graphics on Inequality in America lately.
But here's the simplest and perhaps the best to date, on the soaring wealth of the 1%.
This one comes from the Los Angeles Times -- give credit where credit is due.