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Mitzvah Moments - March 2015


Mitzvah Moments - March 2015

by Tish Levee

And the drought goes on! Frankly I am as sick of writing about drought as I am sure you are of reading about it. But, the facts remain: Tree ring studies demonstrate that the last three years of drought have been the worst in California in 1200 years, while researchers at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, estimate that, if we continue our rate of greenhouse gas emissions, by 2100 there is an 80% chance of a 35-year or longer “megadrought,” in the Southwest that will eclipse the drought of medieval times. Even if we reduce our GHG emissions to a more moderate range, the Great Plains still has a 60-70% chance of a megadrought, and the Southwest, including California, will still have nearly an 80% chance of such an event.

But what about all that rain (and flooding) in early February?

The “Pineapple Express,” which brings warm, tropical rain to California, brought us lots of rain but none of the snow we desperately need in the Sierras to supply us with water later this year—approximately 1/3 of our water supplies come from the melting snowpack. The snowpack has been dwindling and the snow water equivalent is just 25% of the average for this time of year. Many ski areas, even as far north as Alaska, have already closed for the season.

Wildfire season’s starting earlier. Due to the drought, warmer temperatures, and lack of snow on the ground, look for fires like the Round Fire, which burned 7,000 acres near Bishop on Feb. 10th.

So, that’s the bad news. What’s the good news? We can do something!

Four years into this drought—one that really is the new normal—we need to get really serious about water conservation and water waste. We have actually done a lot—despite population growth and urban expansion, total urban water use has remained roughly constant over the past 20 years, and that is great, but we need to do more. Per-capita water use has declined significantly—from 232 gallons per day in 1990 to 178 gallons per day in 2010—reflecting substantial efforts to reduce water use through pricing incentives and mandatory installation of water saving technologies like low-flow toilets and shower heads. But we can do more by changing our water use behavior. Coastal regions use far less water/capita than inland regions—145 gallons/day compared with 276 gallons/day in 2010—largely because of less landscape watering.

And that is where we can really make a difference. More than 30 % of residential water is used outside, and, of that, up to 50% is wasted by inefficient watering practices. The EPA Water Sense site, has good information on how to stop that waste.

As much as 80% of California’s water use is in agriculture—more than 30 % of that either directly or indirectly supports growing animals for food. Help reduce that water use by eating less meat—try going “meatless” one day a week. It takes about 1850 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef vs. 39 gallons to produce a pound of vegetables. (See other benefits at

Water and Sustainable Development is the theme of World Water Day on March 22nd, about how water links to all areas we need to consider to create the future we want: health, nature, urbanization, industry, energy, food, and equality. Learn more at

Sonoma County’s 1st Climate Adaptation Forum features nationally acclaimed scientists, April 8th at Sonoma State University. Register for “Resilience in a Changing Climate” at

Does mass action really help? Earlier in February thousands of people took part in the March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland to protest fracking—hydraulic fracturing—for oil and gas in California (see Gazette article: “Sonoma County Joins the Anti-Fracking March”).

Last September 400,000 people took part in the People’s Climate March in NYC. Since then a recent survey shows the overwhelming majority of Americans, including nearly half of Republicans, support government action to curb global warming; President Obama has spoken out on climate change, especially at the U.N. Climate Summit, and the G20 in Australia; he’s made a historic climate agreement with China; and today, he vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline. Events like this do make a difference!


© Tish Levee, 2015