Our hot dry burning state

imagepicture of lovely drought resistant landscaping

California is a bit of a mess right now.  OK, more than a bit.  I’m sick of this damn drought, as I’m sure everyone else in the state is.

Everything is dry dry dry.  August is generally dry.  We rarely get any measurable wet between May or June and October.  But this was the dryest winter on record, so we started out dry.  Ugh.  We’re under orders from our Governor to reduce our water use, which is a good thing.  But it sucks.  So many dead lawns everywhere.  Then there are the people who continue to water their lawns, oblivious to the suffering around them.  One green lawn, reminding us of the way things used to be, surrounded by brown dead lawns, reminding us of what is.  Then there are those who landscape with bark and drought tolerant plants, reminding us of how things ought to be.  We don’t have a lawn, we have a tiny front area and a small back area, both more patio than yard, and it’s all bricks.  We have a hodgepodge of plants around the perimeter of the back patio, filled in with potted plants.   There once was a theme to the perimeter plants, meaning there was some sense of cohesiveness, but there are goddamned eucalyptus trees on the other side of our fence, and they pretty much do their best to kill whatever is below them. So the plants that we put there on purpose have all died years ago, and whenever I get a potted plant that outgrows its pot, in the ground it goes, and good luck fighting the eucalyptus.  None of that is due to the drought, just the neighboring trees and my general neglect (don’t water enough, don’t fertilize often).

So here we are, taking our drought showers and saving water in the sink (like when you rinse an apple) in a pitcher to water the plants, and I assume that we’re all in this together.  Until I find out that we’re not.  The central valley, my home for many years of my mis-spent youth, is fertile ground for many many crops, including the big money maker, nuts.  Mostly almonds and pistachios, which are big deal money makers.  If you’re a tomato farmer, or a corn farmer, you can decide to let your fields go fallow in years of drought.  But trees need water, you cannot fallow that field.  You can let your trees die perhaps, but that’s awfully expensive, and I don’t really expect anyone to do that.  But then I heard the other day that some farmers are actually PLANTING almond and pistachio trees now.  NOW, in this horrible drought, when there is simply not enough water.  Why?  Because the drought has driven prices up, so there’s good money to be made.   But wait, you may ask, how will they water these trees, if there is no water?  The answer is depressing.  There are some huge aquifers under the valley, vast underground lakes, which are being pumped dry.  These aquifers have been there for generations, and farmers generally do pump some water out in dry years.  But they’re pumping so much out, they now have to get much bigger drills,  the ones used for fracking oil out of tar sands, in order to reach the shrinking water levels.  Which is making the valley sink.  How can we possibly be so damned stupid?  I mean, yes, you have to feed your family, you want to employ people and keep the economy from collapsing around you.  But to increase production now of all times, seems beyond selfish.  It makes me want to take a long bath, and I hate baths.  How, you may ask, does the government allow this?  Because they’re elected by the farmers, and our water rights in California were put in place almost a hundred years ago, and not much has changed.  There are changes coming to the water rights rules, but those won’t be in effect for at least 5 years (I think maybe it’s 10, but I’m not positive), so what use  is that?

And then, of course, there are the fires.  Fire in California in the summer is pretty much a given, but this year’s fires are acting differenttly than they have acted in the past, likely because the trees are SO dry, and the weather is generally hotter than it has been before.  So that’s fun.  Last Saturday, we decided to get out of dodge, which was a good thing because the wind had shifted and was sending smoke down our way from the lake fires, which aren’t really that close.  Our town is at the foot of a mountain, and you coudln’t even tell there was a mountain in the area, it was so smokey.  It smelled bad, and made me worry for those with breathing and heart problems.  We went to Monterey, which is right on the ocean and lovely and cool and just what the doctor ordered, aside from the long  drive getting there.  It took us almost 3.5 hours from here, which would generally be a bit over 2 hours. Ugh.  We should have spent the night.  So the fires are burning, (not just here, the whole west coast), and they are using active duty military to fight the fires, as well as convicts.  It’s a mess.

The question, of course, is “will it rain this winter?”  Will we have a real nasty beautiful wet winter, the kind that puts water in our reservoirs, lakes, rivers, and streams?  The kind that erodes coastlines and sends people’s houses sliding down hillsides in a bunch of mud, and floods the same towns that always seem to flood in wet years?  We need one.  We need an ugly winter, the kind that punishes a lot of people who live or drive or walk in the wrong place at the wrong time.  We may get it.  There’s talk of a strong El Nino brewing off the coast.  But there was similar talk last year, and it didn’t happen.  There’s talk about that high pressure system that sat off the coast of California last winter, forcing the jet stream north, forcing the wet and cold to punish the rest of the country with record snowfalls, while we sat here with gorgeous weather, watching, longingly.  That high pressure system that may or may not be out there again this winter.

I love California.  I love San Francisco and Tahoe and Monterey.  I love Napa and Bodega Bay and Sonoma.  It hurts to see my beloved home in such dire circumstances.  Sometimes we talk about moving, to get away from the drought.  Wondering if we wait to see how things turn out, if we’ll blow it and our house will be worthless. Hard to believe with current housing prices being so stupidly high, but I guess it’s possible.  I don’t want to move.  I love it here.  I want to stick it out and see if things get better.

Did I mention the little earthquake we had last week?  It had the decency to wait until almost 7am, and wasn’t a big one, didn’t do a lot of damage. (My friend’s hat fell off of her bookcase)  That was the only damage I heard of at first, but then it turned otu that several water mains busted.  Maybe because of the earthquake, maybe because the pipes are 90 years old, I don’t know.

Poor California.  I hope things get better, soon.

This entry was posted in Musings.

8 thoughts on “Our hot dry burning state

  1. I read about the troubles in CA and wonder how much longer before it becomes as dry and dusty as AZ. While I adore the photo above of drought resistant landscaping, if everyone isn’t doing it, then it’s more of a money maker for the landscapers than for the state. I cannot imagine how much water it’d take to keep grass growing in your current weather conditions. Price prohibitive + morally wrong to do so. What a mess.

    Around here, as you know, we’re so soggy + green that it doesn’t seem real. The rains are like southern FL, sudden and drenching followed by high, annoying humidity. I’ve never seen anything like it. Mold is everywhere.

    If you moved away from San Fran, where would you go? You lived in Philly at one point, didn’t you? Back there? Somewhere new? Every once in a while, we talk about moving down into the Carolinas, but the urge passes. Still, a new start…

    • Ally, if we were to move, I think our first choice would be Portland, or maybe Seattle. We have family in Portland, so we’ve been often enough to know we really like it a lot. Who knows, though, this drought thing could easily hit Portland and Seattle as well.

  2. Oregon has definitely been hit by this problem and whether this is a natural cycle or something far more dire, only time will tell. It’s worrisome.

    • Rain, very worrisome indeed. Maybe I should consider the east coast, they generally seem to have enough water. Or, much better, Hawaii!

  3. A few days ago, when I was watching the news about poor California’s fires, I got very angry when they showed an aerial view of the landscape and I saw so many swimming pools that appeared to be filled. And filled with nice, clean water.

    I guess that people deserve to have their recreation, and that they paid for their privilege, but the state is in a dire emergency with its water. I wonder if private pools–large, in-ground ones–aren’t a terrible use of a precious resource.

    Probably swimming pools are a tiny percentage of California’s water usage. But if citizens are being asked to conserve even water used to rinse food and dishes, then perhaps asking them to eschew their big pools isn’t such a bad idea.

    • Nance, if pools were drained every year and refilled, they would be a huge waste of water. And they do use a lot of water. But not as much as a lawn or a leaky toilet. Most of the water lost from an already filled pool is from evaporation and splashing. You can prevent some evaporation by setting your pool heater lower so the water isn’t as warm. You can prevent some of the splashing by not filling your pool as much. With a pool cover, a pool uses about the same amount of water as drought resistant landscaping. (Assuming you don’t drain and refill your pool every year or two, as that DOES use a ton of water, but I don’t think anyone in CA does that. Far too expensive, even in years of no drought.) So that’s another option, though not one that thrills me since a kid could get trapped under one and drown and no-one would know. But it’s an option. Pools LOOK like they use a ton of water, but only when they’re newly filled. We live in a condo with a pool, and we’ve been here 17 years. Our pool has only been drained twice during that time, once when the bottom was damaged because kids were throwing stones in it, and once when the pool was resurfaced. I believe some counties have stopped issuing permits for new pools, at least in single family residences, until the drought is over, but I’m not positive.

      I hope we don’t ever have to get rid of our pool. Sometimes with my arthritis, it’s the only exercise I can do. (Not true, I can do yoga, but I do LOVE to swim, and it gets my heart rate up more than yoga.) Also, I kind of think of it as a backup water supply in case of emergency. Assuming an earthquake that shut off our water but didn’t drain the pool, you can treat the water and make it drinkable.

      Pools are definitely something to look at in drought, and maybe not the best use of water. But if farmers are planting new trees during the drought, I don’t think we’re quite dire enough to force people to fill in their pools. Maybe if the drought continues for a few more years, we’ll get there. I sure hope not!

      Having said all of that, I would never buy a house with a pool in the yard. Too dangerous, and too expensive. A community pool is a good answer to me. Your comment motivated me to find this article:
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/realestate/in-california-drought-has-some-homeowners-running-cool-on-pools/2015/08/13/f0ce157a-3238-11e5-97ae-30a30cca95d7_story.html

      • Thank you for educating me, truly. I have never had a pool or a drought emergency, so I don’t know a lot about either one. We are currently summering at the lake, and even after a hugely rainy June (24 of the 30 days, it rained), we have had a completely dry July and August. The lake level is down over a foot now. I imagined that would be the case with a great many of the swimming pools, too, with the drought and the hot winds.

        I do know that in-ground pools are a ton of work. The neighbors across the street from us back home filled theirs in once all their kids left home. It simply wasn’t worth the constant upkeep and expense. It was a gorgeous pool, but pumps, covers, chemicals, etc, especially in NEO with frigid winters made it a huge financial burden if it wasn’t being used.

        As usual, I appreciate you widening my perspective and knowledge. Off to read the article.

        • Yeah, as I said, I don’t think I’d want a pool of my own to have to take care of. Summering at the lake…how idyllic! Sounds like heaven to me. Sorry the water levels are low. I remember when we lived in Philly, there was a drought one summer. Completely different than a drought in CA. CA is always dry during the summer, most of our water comes from run off from the snow in the Sierras. In Philly (and I suspect much of the world), rain must be somewhat consistant to maintain water levels. I remember that the water started tasting bad during that Philly drought, and we had to start buying water to drink. Strange for a Californian. (Not that we don’t buy water to drink, a lot of people do, but the whole drought means no summer rain was strange to us.)

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