The Population Association of America (PAA) annual conference was held in San Diego at the beginning of May this year. What a treat, especially after the never-ending winter we had in the northeast! I brought my skirts and short sleeves out of storage and packed my toiletries bag with plenty of sunscreen to protect my ghostly white skin. Once at the conference, I spent every free second in between sessions on the hotel terrace overlooking San Diego Bay, refusing to squander any single opportunity to thaw out.
As the winter months drag on in Maine each year, I often question my choice to move here, especially when it’s placed in juxtaposition to my colleagues’ decision to open a development office in San Diego. While they’re hiking in the desert and basking at the beach, I’m shoveling snow and wading through the muck of “mud season.”
The one climatic perk I’ve got on them, though, is my access to abundant fresh water. Maine is chockablock with lakes, rivers, and aquifers, and we have plenty of precipitation. Seriously. Plenty. So much that I wish we could send some of it to drought-stricken California before it lands on our alternately frozen and soggy soil.
Even California’s governor, Jerry Brown, has admitted that California is in a pickle. “With the weather that’s happening in California, climate change is not a hoax,” Brown said on ABC’s This Week. “We’re dealing with it, and it’s damn serious.” He said the water crisis “is a wake-up call” for California residents, but also for everyone who depends on California produce, which is most Americans.
Regardless of where we live, all Americans who aren’t entirely self-sufficient (practically all of us) rely in some way on goods and services provided by locales that are not our own. We depend on different regions of the country and world for food, fuel, and natural resources that we don’t have or can’t grow nearby. So while I’m glad not to be dealing with water rationing mandates at the household level, I do have a stake in California’s predicament. I like almonds, artichokes, and avocados, and the dozens of other crops that are cultivated most abundantly in the Golden State. Agriculture uses up an estimated 80 percent of California’s available water, which means that on some level we’re all responsible for the current shortage. Water that’s used for agricultural exports is water that is not available for household consumption by California’s residents.
As California’s population grows, its per capita water availability shrinks. As the U.S. and world populations grow, more people depend on California’s agricultural products. A combination of more efficient irrigation techniques and global population stabilization is the only long-term solution for the future of this gloriously warm and sunny, water-scarce state.