So, as graduate students, we are growing up and entering the phase of our lives where our close friends and family are getting married and settling down. This past weekend, I drove up to the Bay Area to witness the marriage of a close friend from my undergraduate days to the love of his life. To document the experience of the road trip, I am doing a three part post documenting my travels, the wedding, and exploring Berkeley with my family. Look out for the next two posts in the upcoming days.
Now, on to the first post:
On last Friday afternoon, my parents, Surbhi, and I decided to drive up to Oakland for Devang and Shalini’s wedding. The trip up took approximately 8-9 hours and allowed us to see many different parts of California. We took the I-5 North for most of the way, then switched to the I-580 as we reached farther up northern California. Here’s a map to give you a clearer picture.
Surbhi and I were the first to drive. Here she is enjoying her coffee and driving on the I-5.
As we traveled across California, we saw distinct changes in the landscape from mountains to farmland. Interesting things we saw along the way were oil refineries, orchards, some dairy farm, a slaughterhouse, and windmills. Many of the farms were dry, and several of them had political banners and signs blaming congress for the lack of farm water. My mom stopped the car and I was able to get a picture of one of the signs on the way back.
California has been in the midst of a drought over the last four years. On April 1st, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order asking for emergency regulation requiring an immediate 25 percent reduction in overall potable urban water use statewide. This appears strange given that residential water use only makes up 20 percent of water usage, (farmers actually use 80 percent of the water in California.) Governor Brown has pointed out in past speeches, the drought has significantly affected farmers. Farmers have lost $2.2 billion over 2014 as a result of lost crops and increased water costs. This is in addition to the 17,100 jobs that have been lost in the economy.
The loss has not been spread evenly. California’s water policy is based on historic water rights. As a result, whenever there is a shortfall, the farmers who have owned the land longest, have greater water rights than those who came after them. We could see how this manifested in real life as we drove near the farms. Some were lush and green, while others lay completely fallow, with browning grass, dangerously close to catching on fire.
The issue has gotten so big that the United States Congress is two legislative packages to address the issue. President Obama, the House Speaker, and the House Natural Resources Committee have come to the Central Valley to better understand the issue. You can learn more about bills and lobbying efforts here.
It was the first time I saw the everyday experience of farmers facing the drought in California. I’m going to be a lot more conscious about how I use my own water in the future.
What are your thoughts on the drought? Are there any tips you would like to share on water conservation? Let me know in the comments below.