California Drought Feels Fine

On Significant Figures, Peter Gleick examines the rather relaxed attitudes of some Californians to an extreme drought fostered by three years of dry weather. Gleick writes “reservoirs are at record low levels. Deliveries of surface water to some farmers are lower than at any time in recent history. Streams are drying up and fisheries are being devastated.” Yet he and millions of other residents have been able to run water from their taps freely. Agriculture might only suffer losses of 4% (about .0008% of the state’s total economy). And an expectation of El Niño rains obscures the prospect of another dry year, when “the shit is going to start to hit the fan.” Sacramento recently imposed statewide water restrictions and fines, but many homes lack water meters. Greg Laden writes “water meters are the first line of defense in controlling water use.”


To War over Water

Water may be the most abundant molecule on the surface of the Earth, but more than 99% of it is frozen, underground, or too salty to drink.  Only .007% of the planet’s water runs in rivers and lakes, yet this precious amount sustains massive populations worldwide.  Agricultural societies have long gone to war over water, and as the Earth’s population balloons toward 10 billion, global warming destabilizes weather patterns, and pollution sullies what little is left to count on, the conflicts will only get worse.  On Significant Figures, Peter Gleick traces Syria’s civil war in part to “drought, agricultural failure, water shortages, and water mismanagement” in one of the driest regions in the world.  In another post, Gleick considers Egypt’s decades-old threat to fight for the waters of the Nile—which will soon be held up in Ethiopia, behind the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa.  Gleick says “we need to stop assuming that our political stability is independent of what we do to our atmosphere or our water. It isn’t.”