Drought exposes new social divide

Wealthy have ‘more green’

Merdies Hayes | 7/25/2014, midnight
The ongoing drought has revealed a startling economic division within California—residents who live closer to the shoreline reportedly have greener ...

The ongoing drought has revealed a startling economic division within California—residents who live closer to the shoreline reportedly have greener grounds than do persons who reside in the eastern regions. It seems these coastal residents are using much more water—at least eight percent more—to keep their lawns green, while others residing inland or near the Nevada and Arizona borders may have to contend with more brown landscapes.

Cities from Long Beach to Santa Barbara have instituted mandatory water restrictions, but more wealthy coastal residents have decided to accept the $500 fine and continue using more water than is allowed. Los Angeles probably uses more water than any city; there has been a reported 5 percent jump in usage during the past year despite steep penalties for violations.

“In addition to the ‘red and blue’ politics, we’ll have the ‘green’ coast and the ‘brown’ inland,” said Steve Erie, outgoing director of the Urban Studies and Planning Program at U.S. San Diego. “Even with the price of water going up; the wealthy along the coast will continue to use it.”

Experts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena believe some of the worst water scofflaws are those residents who can afford to pay a fine. With water use soaring in the well-heeled coastal regions, the wealthier communities are considerably greener while the eastern portion of the state looks more withered each day.

Climatologists at the JPL this week released animated images of the Central Valley that show the area has lost much of its plant life. NASA’s Aqua satellite took photographs of the region to compare with a similar image taken in July 2011. What was once lush green between Yosemite and San Francisco is now much more brown. In the 119 years of records, 2013 was the driest calendar year for California, and NASA scientists say it has only worsened this year, particularly for the state’s many reservoirs all of which are reported to be 50 percent below capacity.

“The American West and Southwest are definitely on the ropes,” said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at the JPL. “Even with a possible El Nino lurking in the tropical Pacific, there is no quick fix to this drought. It will take years of above-average rainfall to recover, and dramatic restrictions on water usage to maintain California’s economy. The time to tighten our water conservation belts is now.”

The drought has affected several Western states, including Nevada where Lake Mead is at its lowest level since Hoover Dam opened about 80 years ago.

If you’re looking for a second job, you may want to contact the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP). They plan on hiring more water conservation deputies, popularly known as “water cops,” in the coming months to keep an eye on residents who waste water. Last week the 100-year-old utility company announced it will hire at least three new deputies to patrol neighborhoods looking for persons who flout the new restrictions. Five years ago the city of Los Angeles instituted mandatory water rationing prohibiting customers from watering lawns on certain days or hosing down driveways and sidewalks.