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‘Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.’
- Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell

Folk icon Joni Mitchell’s hit 1970 song ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ was written in response to the slow encroachment of mankind across the Hawaiian islands – but in modern times, the lyrics could serve as a significant warning for the future. In regions around the globe, we are fast approaching the point at which our natural resources will no longer be able to sufficiently support the population. And as far as we have advanced since our ancestors first stepped foot on this continent, there is no contingency plan for lack. Facing one of the most severe droughts in recent history, California is currently struggling to properly manage our most precious resource – water. And the consequences of an on-going drought extend far beyond arid fields and empty irrigation ditches.

California Water Crisis

The now three-year drought has brought state reservoir levels to record lows, leading Governor Arnold Swartzenegger to declare a state of emergency – urging that Californians drastically reduce their consumption rates or deal with the possibility of mandatory water rationing and stringent conservation methods. As state government slows the tap on the region’s aqueduct system, the businesses and communities that rely on them are slowly fading – but this isn’t just a problem for residents of the Golden State. As one of the ten largest economies in the world, California’s water shortage may turn into everyone’s problem – as it could have disastrous long-term impact on a country still reeling from the effects of recession. Financial analysts are predicting that should the drought continue into the next growing season, the state may be crippled under $2 billion in lost revenue. It will be a loss felt not only in the pockets of corporate agriculture – but on Main Streets across America in the form of rising food prices and significant strain on social resources.

California’s Central Valley is affectionately referred to as the ‘Salad Bowl’, so named for producing nearly half of the fruits and vegetables in the country. As Sacramento politicians argue about the best methods of allocating water resources, they have cut off the supply of available water for the region’s farms. As a result, farmers are resorting to survival methods – allowing acres of land to lay unseeded, reducing the workforce, and relying on costlier, lower-quality well water to sustain their remaining crops. With less production, unemployment has risen to 3-4 times the national average– which, when coupled with reported increases in drug use, alcohol consumption, and domestic violence complaints, means that residents of these small rural communities aren’t just being squeezed by their thirst – they’re choking on it.

As dire as the predictions sound, many experts believe that adopting small changes will have a big impact on the problem. Citizens will need to get smarter about their consumption before the state government enacts mandatory water rationing. Simple steps such as replacing older, high-flow faucets with more efficient models as well as choosing produce that has a smaller ‘water footprint’ could save millions of gallons of water each day. Additionally, many environmentalists are calling for a large-scale embrace of sustainable farming methods and water-conserving irrigation methods – steps that require financial investments from banks that have been wary of extending credit to small businesses. There is no easy fix for California’s water shortage – but there’s absolutely no known replacement for water either. So what’s it going to be?