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Drought may top list of our woes
Art deWerk - photo by Contributed to the Courier

As we look forward to the year 2014, there are obvious problems that continue to plague the Valley.

The last seven years have been among the most challenging economically with the jobless rate remaining at a high level. Many businesses have shuttered their doors permanently. Thousands of people have lost their homes. The homeless population has swelled. Most local governments have lost numerous employees owing to revenues losses. And decent-paying jobs continue to elude those who are qualified and looking for positions.

At the same time, crime is high on peoples' minds as a result of the state's reckless initiative that has released tens of thousands of prisoners into local communities and simultaneously filling county jails to their maximum capacities.

This is a dismal summary, I know, but I also believe that most of the worst is behind us. The economy is definitely improving, we are seeing more construction with some new business prospects emerging, and many people are generally hopeful that positive economic change will become more obvious during 2014.

There is one threat looming that, in my view, is more significant than most any other challenge we have faced in the last several decades. We are facing a severe water shortage.

California is in its third consecutive year of minimal rainfall amounts, with some areas qualifying for the label of being in a drought situation. According to AccuWeather, the long-term forecast calls for minimal rainfall through February and into early March. According to Paul Pastelok of AccuWeather, "Currently, more than 75 percent of the state is enduring some degree of drought, while nearly eight percent is suffering from extreme to exceptional drought." "2013 will probably end up the driest year on record for the state of California," said Pastelok. "The reservoirs are already hurting from last winter's drought; this will be a serious situation."
Hopefully there will be rain in the remainder of the rainfall season, especially in January through April.
A compounding problem is the fact that the underground aquifers are being pumped down from previous levels to the point that land of our Valley floor is sinking - in some places as much as one foot each year. It takes years for groundwater to be restored, even during times when there are high rainfall amounts. So, we are dealing with minimal snow packs, below-normal rainfall amounts and increasing demands on our water supply. It is easy to see why the situation we are in is like a train going down the tracks without brakes.

Water, of course, is the lifeblood for all people and animals, but it is for our economy as well. Without it, farmers cannot grow food and livestock cannot drink. Many manufactured products depend on a reliable water supply, households, of course need water for basic life's purposes; the list of reasons why water is a critical commodity is almost without end.

Even if rainfall and snowpack amounts continue to meet annual averages, California faces a dismal water-related future to the extent that within mere decades we will simply not have enough water to supply our growing population. The situation is critical. And consider that most all of the western states are seeing trends of significant water shortages. As the western region faces drought-like or actual drought conditions, the stresses on society will continue to increase. At the same time, environmental concerns have to be taken into account. For example, there is a move afoot to restore the area covered by the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to its original natural condition. Hetch Hetchy supplies San Francisco and multiple other communities with water. If that reservoir is drained, what source will replace that particular water supply? I do not have those answers, but there will continue to be tensions between water users and those who feel that we, as a society, have caused too much destruction to the environment upon which we depend for resources.

Some researchers have suggested that what the future holds in store are "water wars," where there is such a high demand for water owing to growing populations and probable rainfall shortages, that the value of water becomes almost incalculable. It will, in some sense, become this nation's new "gold."

If there is any good news to be had relative to water, it is that there are presently mayors, city councils and other officials in our local communities who are showing great foresight and leadership by trying to tackle this problem head-on. One of the major efforts is the development of infrastructure that can make use of "surface water," which is government speak for rivers. Water conservation efforts are already well underway; the state law requiring water meters at all user points has already made a big dent in the amount of water that is being used on an annual basis. Yet, none of the aforementioned is enough to completely eliminate the very real threat of a significant and dangerous water shortage even in during the next several years.

The public should be paying close attention to the water shortage problem to ensure that officials work hard to solve the problem before it is too late. At the same time, it is critical that each individual does all that is possible to conserve water. Drought or no drought, if current usage trends and population growth continues without addressing the coming shortages, our children will have to face a very difficult situation that will be life-altering and have a very big impact on the economy and the population's overall well-being. To the extent that we can no longer take the availability of water for granted, we are facing a most difficult and serious threat to our very existence.

There is no time to waste.