California Drought Sim, Water Use, and Preserving Open Space

Researchers simulated a 70-year mega-drought and came up with ways that California could survive without the economy collapsing, emptying out the state, or even abandoning agriculture. We’d have to change the way we store and distribute water, recycle more wastewater, do groundwater replenishment, prioritize different (and less thirsty) crops, and of course cut down on our water use. It would hurt, and smaller, rural towns would be worse hit than cities (which is already happening — there are places out in Tulare county, for instance, where wells are drying up and homes no longer have running water). But the simulation suggests it could be done — and it’s a good idea to plan for this, just in case, rather than relying on the drought to end in a year or two. Geologic evidence suggests that decades-long droughts used to be the norm, and of course who knows what “normal” is going to be over the next century.

Another article details how Southern Californians have been changing water use this summer: letting lawns die, using more reclaimed water, draining fountains and converting commercial landscaping. The average Los Angeles resident has cut back to 89 gallons per day.

I can’t say I’ve seen much change in my area since I started noticing the occasional lawn replaced with native plants back at the start of the year. Maybe a few more native gardens or scraggly lawns, but not a sea change. Katie does a lot more walking, though, and she’s noticed that a lot of houses just have dirt. Apartments mostly still have lawns, but at least that’s more people per square foot of grass. Unfortunately nobody wants to wash the smears of dog poop off of the sidewalk.

Swimming Pool Under Construction.Meanwhile, the office building to hotel conversion next door to my workplace has embarked on what they’re replacing that giant lawn with: a swimming pool. A sign out front proclaims an early 2015 opening. Someone’s optimistic about water for next year.

On a related note, the Irvine Company is planning to donate what’s left of the Irvine Ranch to the county as open space. Good!

I’ve lamented the loss of both open space and local farmland over the past twenty years or so as more and more of Orange County has been paved over with houses and shopping malls. Since moving to the South Bay, I’ve seen the potential endgame. “Open space” out here consists of the occasional empty block that’s been set aside, or a hillside that’s too steep to build on conveniently. Palos Verdes has a bit more, but it’s filling in. At least the Portuguese Bend area is likely to stay clear, since the ground isn’t stable enough to build on.

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