Sunday, January 12, 2014

What does a drought mean to you?

What does a drought emergency mean?

For those of you who are new to California or maybe under the age of 30, and have not lived through a drought emergency declaration before, here is what the impact will be to you.
First, the logical items are that you will be asked to conserve water. The people in the city of Folsom have been told to cut back by 20% and to not use water outdoors. In other words, you will need to stop watering your garden, don’t wash your windows or your car and for pete’s sake, don’t use the hose to clean off your walks and driveway. These are really obvious areas and the ones that can make a difference right off the bat.
Second, you need to conserve water inside the house as well. Right now the instructions are to run only full loads in your dishwasher and clothes washer, and to take shorter showers. During the mid-1970’s we had a severe drought and we were asked to do things like put bricks in our toilet tanks. (That was before the current water efficient toilets.) Other things we were asked to do is to recycle “gray water”, which is the water that is left over when you take a bath or wash your clothes. In perennially drought stricken areas such as the deserts, some people have a permanent gray water recycling system that will take the rinse water from your washer and empty it out on an orchard area. As long as you are using chemical and sulfate free detergent this works. We don’t have this in California and I am not sure it is legal actually. It is kind of strange the rules we have here to protect the environment are also hurting the environment.

What happens if the drought continues?

Some of the immediate effects you will because of the drought seem positive at first. You won’t have as many allergies because nothing is blooming.. but you will also miss the beauty of the flowering trees that are staying dormant now.
Meat prices will drop, because ranchers have to feed and water those herds. In extreme periods they will slaughter all the animals they have before they are even market weight, except for a few to rebuild their herds when the rain returns. Look for beef prices to drop especially in the beginning because cows are very resource intensive. During this price drop, stock your freezer as much as you can. Because you know what happens in a couple of months when the excess supply is gone? You got it, then meat prices will boomerang up to be very expensive. So much so that you will be cutting meat out of your daily diet as much as possible. This effect will happen in all livestock groups, cattle, pork, sheep and yes chickens. Be aware of it happening and take advantage of it.
Produce prices will rise starting now. Sorry there isn’t going to be a dip like there will be for meat. Those farmers who should be looking to start planting their crops for spring such as lettuce, broccoli and other seasonal produce will skip it. These large farm corporations will not spend the money to water these crops so the only ones producing them will be the home gardener or the small family farm. You will see the produce is still available in the supermarket but it will be costly because it has to be trucked in from out-of-state or it is greenhouse grown. The economic impact on farmers and those who work in the fields, drive the trucks or work in the packing houses will be enormous as well. All the people will be out of work and looking for assistance.
Electricity prices will go up. This won't make sense to people until you look at the energy generation methods in California. We create a lot of our electricity via hydro-electric dams. We use the force of the water to turn the turbines to create electricity cheaply and efficiently, as long as there is water to move the turbines we have stable electricity prices. Without the flow of water through the turbines, they will need to use more expensive and “dirty” ways to create electricity, including coal powered plants. You know how you have been thinking of going solar but can't make the economic argument to do so? You might be able to do that now.

What does the drought mean for the homeowner?

For me it means I will be turning the water off to everything outside except my perennial fruit trees and asparagus. My front meadow has been seeded for 4 years now with wildflowers and we will see if that idea to make it self-sustaining works. I will not be planting my enormous garden as in past years. This means that I will not be eating any corn or squash, and neither will the deer and raccoons. (Wildlife is going to get desperate without food and water and they will be moving into the neighborhoods. Anything green will be eaten.)
I have some small vegetable plantings in pots in Walnut Creek and my plants in the greenhouse. Growing in a greenhouse uses very little water when compared to growing outside. Also, with the fish tank and aquaponics system I will be very energy and water efficient. You might say, how is that possible when you will be growing plants in water? Look at it this way – in my garden I have about 500 square feet of dirt. When I plant things, even though they are intensively planted, I am still watering dirt. In the valley where temperatures hitting and staying above 100 degrees for months in the summer is the norm, and watering everyday (before sunrise), I am losing about 70% of that water either to evaporation or to watering dirt. In a greenhouse environment I am only watering the plants. It is extremely efficient and I should be able to increase the yield over the garden by at least 100%.

What are you going to do?

Pay attention to everything you are doing that uses water. Where can you cut back the use of water or even eliminate it? Start with the easy changes… shorter showers, less loads of dishes or clothes. Are you watering perennial shrubs using sprinklers? Can you change them out to drip lines? Anything you do will have a two-fold effective, it will save you water now and money in the future. Because the water companies will raise the rates, that you can be sure. The more you save now the less you will have to pay.

Pray for rain!

I don’t care what you believe or don’t believe – pray for rain in whatever way that means to you. Traditional praying to God or native American rain dances or smearing mud on your face while howling at the moon. I am not saying any of these will work but right now we need to do everything we can!


Julie