California’s drought has become a crisis of incredible magnitude that has the potential to drastically change the lives of millions for the worse.
For four years now, rainfall has been severely below average for the entire state, leading California's Governor Jerry Brown to issue an unprecedented executive order to reduce water consumption by 25 percent. In such an environmental catastrophe, extreme measures like this are laudable. However, these restrictions have some crippling holes in them: though the water limits apply to citizens, they don’t apply to the oil or agriculture industries. Without the regulation of these industries, the water conserved will just be a drop in a very dry bucket.
80 percent of water in California is used by agriculture, yet no water restrictions are placed on farmers. This is a complicated issue, to say the least. If blanket water restrictions were to be placed on the agricultural industry, food prices would go up considerably; California produces the majority of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, more than any other state by far. Even without further restrictions placed on the agriculture business, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the price of fruits and vegetables will continue to rise substantially.
However, these figures don’t paint a complete picture.
While it’s true that preserving Californian agriculture to keep food prices low is important, many of the crops grown in the state are needlessly water-intensive. For example, growing almonds takes three times the amount of water than what is consumed annually by the entire city of Los Angeles. In emergency conditions, it’s ludicrous to be growing such a demanding crop. Water limits on agriculture don’t have to be the draconian cuts that many imagine; while some would balk at the prospect of water restrictions for farmers, most would agree that agricultural corporations need to be more selective as to which crops they choose to allocate water to.
California’s oil industry takes up 2 million gallons of fresh water every day, yet they are also exempt from water restrictions. One method these companies use to harvest natural gas is fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, which is the shattering of underground shale rocks to release natural gas. The shattering is achieved with injection of highly pressurized water.
Fracking has been shown to leak the highly dangerous radioactive gas radon from the ground during natural gas extraction. And on top of all of that, the process contaminates ground water, making it unsafe to drink or grow food in, further exacerbating the danger of the water shortage. Fracking is obviously detrimental to the environment; its protection while citizen consumption of water is being so heavily regulated isn't warranted.
The citizens and government of California have an important decision to make. They can choose to believe that cutting down on lawn watering and long showers will be enough to keep the drought at bay — but it won’t be. They can choose to believe that the drought is just a minor deviation that will correct itself in a couple of years — but it isn’t. Or they can accept that the short term pains of effective water conservation for the sake of their collective future. If California is unwilling to take on the corporate interests of the oil and agriculture industries, it will only get worse from here.