Experts – NBC Bay Area
California is in the midst of another drought, and experts say the strategy should be more than hoping for a sufficient supply of precipitation.
The fact that a growing population inhabits the dry and arid conditions of the West has consequences, which even non-experts have recognized. Aggravated by the effects of climate change and the specter of more intense dry years ahead, government officials and residents of the West are exploring how to reframe water conservation efforts towards a more holistic approach.
Environmentalists, water researchers and other experts spoke at a “Drought in the American West” webinar hosted by Circle of Blue on Wednesday, discussing the multifaceted impacts of drought and the role of human-induced climate change.
Heather Cooley, research director at the Pacific Institute in Oakland, said false notions of water abundance in the West first surfaced with the early settlers. Greater economic prosperity and population growth ultimately resulted in an insatiable need for water, which affected the natural water supply and left some populations vulnerable.
“The challenges we now face are the result of decisions of the past, but it is incumbent on all of us to take action now for a more sustainable, resilient and water-just future for the West,” Cooley said. .
A resilient water supply system, according to Pacific Institute President Emeritus Peter Gleick, is both flexible and redundant, as well as well integrated with other agencies. This does not mean further depleting water supplies to meet demand, as was the case before.
Potential solutions to avoid going beyond the ecosystem’s natural capacity for water supply, also known as freshwater pathways, include water recycling, precipitation capture, and water desalination. brackish or oceanic water.
“Climate change alone should be enough to force us to rethink our water supply systems because they were built for a climate that no longer exists,” Gleick said.
Former US Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman said drought conditions could have major implications for one of the country’s biggest sectors – our food supply. He called on the federal government and corresponding agencies to provide short-term aid to farmers, such as larger disaster payments and crop insurance programs.
There are some best practices that private farmers and food production companies are using to alleviate the effects of drought, he said, but these practices are not widespread in the agricultural industry. The next step is to implement shared practices regionally, even nationally, he said.
“Unless we modernize our food production techniques, we will be increasingly vulnerable to these great climate changes, which we will be facing for a long time,” said Glickman.
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And not only are the drought conditions damaging the country’s economic system and food supply, it also puts farmers’ livelihoods at risk, said Susana De Anda of the California-based Community Water Center. In rural areas, water becomes a central force in keeping families afloat.
“The reality is that droughts are impacting already stressful, already at risk communities … many of whom have not had clean water for a decade,” De Anda said.
Bidtah Becker of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority said 30 to 40 percent of residents on Navajo lands lack pipes in their homes. She is part of the management team of the Water & Tribes Initiative, which advocates for the sustainability of water on the Colorado River for tribal communities.
While there are challenges, Becker said it might be encouraging to consider traditional Navajo teachings, which say change is part of human life. This obstacle could simply mean focusing on new ways to adapt to life on Earth, she said.
“For the first time in almost 20 years of career, there are so many people talking about drought and water who want to take a holistic approach,” Becker said.