California Coast Trip Shows Drought Impacts

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By Maria Fotopoulos

Maria is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow who focuses on the impacts of growth on biodiversity. Find her on Twitter | in | FB.

The writer’s views are her own.


 

June 30, 2015

Very little evidence of drought is visible in my five-mile radius on the West side of Los Angeles and Santa Monica. I see no purging of grass; lawns are green and flowers copious. There’s the occasional drought-tolerant front yard covered with native plants and wood chips, but that definitely is the exception for condo and apartment buildings and the neighborhoods of multi-million dollar homes.

I wonder if perhaps those homeowners are saving their bath water for thirsty lawns (ha!) and if President Obama, on one of his frequent fundraising trips to the wealthy Westside – including today as I write – says with some amazement, “Well, it doesn’t look like the drought is having much impact here.”

Of course, this is in stark contrast to reality. Type in “drought” and “California” in your Internet browser, and the severity of the situation is abundantly clear, with the concomitant finger pointing. A recent drive up the coast to Central California provided a more realistic view too of the drought than my West L.A. environs.

Among California’s many unique offerings, Hearst Castle at San Simeon is a favorite destination getaway from life in Los Angeles. Half-way between L.A. and San Francisco, the William Randolph Hearst home-turned-museum sits above ranchland and the Pacific – often pictured seemingly rising out of the mist like Shangri-La.

The visitor center for the Hearst Castle – likely what tourists will see before even a glimpse of the castle in the sky – illustrates why government is so easy to criticize. Unappealing and pedestrian, there was not even a modicum of homage in the center’s architectural design to what visitors are about to see. Add insult to injury. The first view now for visitors to Hearst Castle is a row of Honey Hut porta-potties.

Port-a-potties outside the Hearst Castle Restrooms closed at the Hearst Castle
First view at California’s jewel, the Hearst Castle.

One has to wonder what W.R. would have thought of a line of porta potties being the first touch point to his castle, by order of Gov. Jerry Brown.

I asked a tour guide about the potties, and he said they’d been in place since last year. With 750,000 visitors to Hearst Castle a year, “That’s a lot of flushes,” he said.

Indeed. But, I would like to see the math. Does it really pen out when factoring in the cost of potty rentals and the cost (energy) of commercial-size trucks coming and going to service and clean the potties, regularly sucking out the potty chemicals combined with human waste and then transporting that … somewhere (presumably the sewage system) – all weighed against the fact that there’s an actual infrastructure in place not being used? Is it a real solution to a problem, or is it politics?

The Honey Huts were not the first sign of California’s water problems on the drive up the coast though. At a quick stop for a “look see” at the novel and bizarre Madonna Inn, my road trip partner and I chatted with a couple in the gift shop who had just visited Cambria (our bed & breakfast destination location just south of San Simeon) who poured forth about the area’s water problems – “It’s the worst in the state; they’re trucking in water, but they’re still planting new fields of grapes.” The vineyards, which are becoming a point of contention in this water crisis, did seem to be the only truly green spots on the drive up the coast.

Once in Cambria, one restaurant spelled out the water situation clearly with this sign:

Restaurant sign detailing water conservation efforts
Cambria restaurant response to water crisis.

I was a little confused by the restaurant protocol. Water and soft drinks came in plastic cups, but wine and liquor, in “real” glasses. The waiter explained that the restaurant saved $50,000 annually by not washing water glasses. So while it sounded like the restaurateurs had done their math, it still didn’t gibe with me environmentally. Even with the water crisis, it makes more sense to use petroleum-based products and then landfill or otherwise dispose of all that plastic?

This is the fourth year of drought for California, and some experts are saying we should get used to this as the “new normal.” The state is overdrawing its groundwater – a problem worldwide – and it seems like we may just be at the start of worse to come. It’s hard not to feel like “winter is coming” – increased wildfires, “water wars,” loss of wildlife and plant life, more entitlement thinking, drought-related job losses among the illegal alien community which will lead to new entitlement packages the state can’t afford and demands to build desalination plants (with their negative environmental impact).

Of course, maybe this lady doth protest too much. Perhaps soon we’ll have La Niña events that will bring rain, reservoirs will be replenished, we’ll all cut water usage by 40 percent (and sustain that), we’ll awaken to the reality that we must stop growing the population through mass immigration and life will be beautiful.

Right! That plastic water cup is half full!

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