Sunday, June 14, 2015

Water, Water, Barely There

We’re on the road again, on our way to visit family in California. I planned on blogging a cute happy blog about puppies, IKEA, and marshmallows, but instead, I’m blogging about water.

Surprising, I know, as I live in Las Vegas.
Like in the middle of a desert.
But this is different.

We spent the night at a KOA in the San Joaquin Valley on the road to the coast. We’ve stayed here a few times before, and have always enjoyed its lush, quiet appeal. Well, times have changed a bit, and since 2011, when we were last here, this whole area has endured a drought. Well, I know that this area also produces a ton of our agriculture needs. I started googling around and found that according to Wikipedia, (this area) "produces 12.8% of the nation’s agriculture production." I was looking for another source to verify this when I realized that I had opened a pandora's box of a dissertation topic, when all I was looking for were some facts.

So instead of giving you facts, I'll do what I do best. I'll give you my take on things.....which is basically an emotional pull on my heartstrings...(in other words, citation needed!)

Here’s what I saw on the drive:
On the drive on 99N through the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, we drove past the paradox of the drought. Our view alternated between irrigated farmlands producing nuts, citrus and vegetables, and dusty and dry patches of homes and small towns.

When we pulled up into the KOA, there a warning greeted us regarding the nitrates in the water supply, and asked us to please, do not use the water to make baby formula…

I couldn't leave that alone, so with some short googling, I came up with some information from the Community Water Center whose mission statement is:

The Community Water Center acts as a catalyst for community-driven water solutions through organizing, education, and advocacy in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

According to their information on water contamination,

The most prevalent groundwater contaminant found in the Valley is nitrate, an inorganic compound heavily produced for the agricultural industry for use in fertilizers. Nitrate at the high, health-endangering levels found in the Valley is generally known to be caused by 50 years of unchecked use of commercial fertilizers, unregulated and unprotected storage and disposal of animal wastes, and septic systems....

And regarding the populations affected by this the most:

Small, rural, disadvantaged communities and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by groundwater contamination. Residents in these communities often have wells that are shallower and more quickly and severely contaminated, and safe drinking water solutions tend to be expensive while the impacted communities tend to be very poor. In fact, recent studies have shown that communities with nitrate-contaminated groundwater pay on average three times the cost for water recommended by the US EPA. 

By posting this, I realize that I am jumping into controversy. Water, healthy foods, organic farming, drilling for well... you name it.... I am no means an expert in this area, but being here and thinking about this reminded me to appreciate what we have, and figure out ways to be part of the solution, not the problem*.

*After Sam and I spent quite a long time discussing this stuff instead of watching House of Cards, he also found this really fascinating article about Las Vegas water usage. It is a very different perspective than what I have read for a long time. I don't know if I agree with everything, but are some quick quotes:

Local water agencies treat and return to the lake all indoor wastewater, for which they get return-flow credits. That practice essentially cancels out the effects of indoor use on the lake’s water level. Add all the new homes and resorts you want: Nearly all of their indoor water consumption will be returned to the lake and used again.

I actually did not know that.....

Homebuilders and the Southern Nevada Water Authority agreed in 2001 to strict standards for new homes. Front-yard grass was banned. Turf out back was limited to 50 percent. Low-flow faucets and toilets were mandated or encouraged through rebates. Hodgson estimates homes built today use 70 percent less water inside and out than homes built before 2000.

This I did know, and have seen first-hand.

OK. I need to go help Sam pack up, but this has been an interesting part of the trip so far...

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