To Solve California’s Water Crisis, We Must Change the Nation’s Food System

drought

The bold headline of a recent Los Angeles Times editorialby the hydrologist Jay Famiglietti starkly warned: “California has about one year of water left. Will you ration now?” The write-up quickly made the social media rounds, prompting both panic and the usual blame game: It’s because of the meat eatersor the vegan almond-milkdrinkers or the bottled-waterguzzlers or the Southern California lawn soakers.

California’s water losshas been terrifying. But people everywhere should be scared, not just Californians, because this story goes far beyond state lines. It is a story of global climate change and industrial agriculture. It is also a saga that began many decades ago—with the early water wars of the 1930s immortalized in the 1974 Roman Polanski film “Chinatown.”

When my family first moved to the Los Angeles area, we spent years adjusting our lifestyle to be more in line with our values. Ten years ago, we stopped watering our lawn and eventually replaced the lawn with plants that were drought-tolerant or native to California. Three years ago, we installed solar panels on our roofs. Last year, we diverted our laundry runoff to our vegetable garden and fruit trees through a graywater system. We have replaced all our toilets with dual-flush systems to take advantage of local rebates, and we practiceresponsible flushing. We almost never wash our cars, and we shower less often in the winter. We are investigating rainwater barrels in our latest effort to be responsible stewards of our water. Yet none of our efforts to be an example to others have done anything other than make us feel morally self-righteous enough to wag our fingers at water wasters.

California’s water resources are being mismanaged, according to Janet Redman, director of the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank. “The management of water from California’s historic aquifer and snow and rivers and lakes doesn’t match the use right now,” Redman told me in an interviewon my show, “Uprising.”It’s a big understatement.

Even though Gov. Jerry Brown just imposed a series of mandatory water-conservation measuresin response to the emergency, most of those measures are aimed at individual users and restaurants. While it is crucial for residents to stop wasting water on the utterly useless tasks of car washing and lawn watering, “residential use in California is about 4 percent,” Redman told me. “Eighty percent is for agriculture.”

The truth is that California’s Central Valley, which is where the vast majority of the state’s farming businesses are located, is a desert. That desert is irrigated with enough precious water to artificially sustain the growing of one-third of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, a $40 billion industry.

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Is This Ubiquitous Toxic Metal Lowering Men’s Sperm Counts?

Aluminum

Falling sperm counts and rising infertility are phenomena that have been observed for decades in the developed world. Today, researchers estimate that up to twenty per cent of young men have a low sperm count defined as fewer than 20 million sperm per millilitre and it is the main problem for about one in five couples having trouble conceiving and a contributing factor to an additional one in four cases.

Most research has pointed to environmental factors that disrupt hormones such as BPA in plastics and birth control in drinking water as possible causes underlying climbing male infertility. Smoking, pesticides and psychotropic drugs have all been implicated too. But a new study suggests that the ubiquitous household metal aluminum may be a leading culprit for dropping sperm counts.

At the Eleventh bi-annual Keele Meeting on aluminium, a gathering of about 75 aluminum researchers from all over the world held in Lille, France this month, French researcher Jean-Philippe Klein presented his findings on the impact of aluminum on sperm, published recently in the journal Reproductive Toxicology. Klein and his colleagues at the University of Lyon and leading British aluminum researcher Christopher Exley at Keele University in England analyzed the aluminum content of semen samples from 62 men who were seeking help for fertility issues and found high concentrations of the metal  – especially in semen of men with low sperm counts. What’s more, fluorescently-stained aluminum was clearly visible microscopically; settled in the DNA-rich heads of the sperm, raising questions about its impact on the ability of sperm to fertilize an egg and the effect of that aluminum on newly developing embryos.

The aluminum in DNA-rich sperm heads is stained blue by lumogallion.

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California Is Turning Back Into A Desert And There Are No Contingency Plans

drought

Once upon a time, much of the state of California was a barren desert.  And now, thanks to the worst drought in modern American history, much of the state is turning back into one.  Scientists tell us that the 20th century was the wettest century that the state of California had seen in 1000 years.  But now weather patterns are reverting back to historical norms, and California is rapidly running out of water.  It is being reported that the state only has approximately a one year supply of water left in the reservoirs, and when the water is all gone there are no contingency plans.  Back in early 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for the entire state, but since that time water usage has only dropped by 9 percent.  That is not nearly enough.  The state of California has been losing more than 12 million acre-feet of total water a year since 2011, and we are quickly heading toward an extremely painful water crisis unlike anything that any of us have ever seen before.

But don’t take my word for it.  According to the Los Angeles Times, Jay Famiglietti “is the senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine”.  What he has to say about the horrific drought in California is extremely sobering

As our “wet” season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions.January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows. We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too.

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Carbon emissions could dramatically increase risk of U.S. megadroughts

drought

Droughts in the U.S. Southwest and Central Plains during the last half of this century could be drier and longer than drought conditions seen in those regions in the last 1,000 years, according to a new NASA study.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Science Advances, is based on projections from several climate models, including one sponsored by NASA. The research found continued increases in human-produced greenhouse gas emissions drives up the risk of severe droughts in these regions.

“Natural droughts like the 1930s Dust Bowl and the current drought in the Southwest have historically lasted maybe a decade or a little less,” said Ben Cook, climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York City, and lead author of the study. “What these results are saying is we’re going to get a drought similar to those events, but it is probably going to last at least 30 to 35 years.”

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