Anyone who follows the news may hold their water bottles a little bit closer as they see how the country is running out of the liquid so central to our lives. After all, there are severe drought conditions — think: farms going thirsty and forests catching fire — in seven states. California, in particular, dominates headlines as it faces its third dry year in a row, with more than 60 percent of the state suffering from exceptional drought.
The list of consequences of this extreme weather will turn your mouth dry — from the billions that could be lost in farm revenue to the possibility of earthquakes brought on by groundwater withdrawal.
While the drought is nothing short of devastating (with some calling the situation in California a modern day Dust Bowl), the responses to the water shortage represent amazing examples of how crisis can yield creativity. Here are a few of our favorites.
California has put water conservation regulations into place, and the Los Angeles Times reports that those who continue to hose down their driveways or install wasteful water decorations can be fined up to $500 a day. Skeptical? Even if the state does not catch H2O wasters, unofficial “water cops” with mobile phones fill the void with their #DroughtShaming hashtag, posting pictures on virtual neighborhood watch programs.
While these emergency restrictions and responses are temporary for now, they have the potential to raise awareness and change habits forever. Food editor and writer Elaine Corn put it perfectly in her post for the Sacramento Bee: “To protect ourselves from food shortages and to buffer California’s agricultural economy, we all should regard any adjustments that allow us to grow food with less water as permanent.”
Disasters like these demonstrate the connection between crisis and collaboration — both on a local and a global scale. For example, perhaps as we develop a fear about where our food will come from (or at least get scared away by high prices at produce stands), we will start to build our own community-supported agriculture systems. If we team up to give more to the land than we take from it, not only could we collaborate on fresh summer salads to bring to block parties, but we also could enrich our soil to soak up what little rain might fall in the years ahead.
In an example of collaboration across borders, researchers from the United States and Chile are working together to harvest fog — turning those tiny droplets you wipe off your windshields into drinking water. These kinds of partnerships will only gain more interest and momentum as the water supply shrinks and the need for new ideas grows. So perhaps as Texas looks to the Gulf of Mexico as a source for fresh water, it might also look a bit further to the Arabian Gulf and countries like Qatar, which already rely on desalinated water for the vast majority of their fresh water needs.
As other sources of fresh water become scarcer, California is working on harnessing the power of the sun (instead of drawing on oil and gas) as a more sustainable way to power the water desalination process and turn brackish water into something drinkable. And there are other solutions, according to National Geographic, such as a smaller community working to merge its water system with a bigger neighbor, and the Kern County Water Agency is considering pumping nearly 50 miles of the California Aqueduct in reverse.
Of course, sometimes the best solutions come from rethinking how we use the tools already at our disposal, as reflected in a recent report from the Pacific Institute and the National Resources Defense Council, which looks at the massive amounts of water that could be saved by improving water use efficiency, increasing the capture of rainwater and stormwater and recycling and reusing water. See for yourself:
And with Senate Democrats and House Republicans offering dueling solutions on how to aid California farmers, the state is seeking solutions from beyond the beltway, looking to startups like WellIntel, Tal-Ya, and WatrHub.
Ultimately, the solutions that help California get through the dry days should matter to everyone in America. And it’s not only because we may soon find ourselves dipping our bread and dressing our salad with a bottle of olive oil from the Golden State. It’s also because we can all learn a lot from the way the largest agricultural producer in the nation weathers this storm.