When my family first came to the San Joaquin Valley shortly after World War II and started to farm in Hanford, the water table was so high that as a boy I remember digging post holes into which water would sometimes leak . Now wells have to go hundreds of feet to reach water and some wells are over a 1,000 feet deep. Wells are going dry all over the Valley.
Increasingly scarce groundwater, along with global warming, threatens the future of life in the Valley. Decisions we make now on how to manage our water will be critical for our survival. As the prospects for rain and snow decrease, we are going to be faced with dire consequences if we do not act soon.
In the Valley, we waste a tremendous amount of water, and we need to control it. Conservation is a tried-and-true method to conserve water. We can take inspiration from others.
When Cape Town, South Africa was faced with totally running out of water, the people there lowered the water limit to 50 liters per day per person for all uses, including bathing, drinking, cooking and toilet flushing, saving about a million gallons a day and forestalling a day of reckoning.
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Israel is another great example. Israel is a desert country, like the San Joaquin Valley, but with no major dams, and yet they have a water and crop surplus.
How did the Israelis do it? First they took the control of their water out of politicians’ hands and gave it to government technocrats who are guided by data, good science and not political expediency. Next, they instigated strict conservation, and no water could be distributed without a meter. They used recycled wastewater for irrigation. Also, everyone pays the same price for water. Their methods have converted a desert country into a green revolution.
In 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a 25 percent reduction in water consumption for urban areas. This was largely a success and many cities met their goals. Then unexpectedly he cancelled the order, which gave permission for people to go back to their old ways of wasting water.
Now Brown has signed a bill to permanently save water by initially limiting indoor water use to 55 gallons per person per day, which will eventually drop to 50 gallons a day. Instead of backing these bills to protect us from eventually running out of water, Rep. Devin Nunes decided to make political capital out of the announcement by stating Brown’s action is “a drastic reduction in personal freedom and our standard of living.” Well, if we don’t make changes, our standard of living will not be so great when we run out of water. We need to save water now to protect our future. Someone should tell that to Nunes and other opponents of water conservation.
Donald Tayloe is a Fresno physician and has followed Valley water issues for decades.