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California's water crisis: what it means, and what we can learn from it

Flickr: QQ Li

Scary news for my home state of California.

Jay Famiglietti, a water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, warns that California "has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing."

The current four-year drought is said to be the worst the state has seen in 1200 years. Currently, approximately 93% of the state is experiencing severe drought or worse.

For people like my parents, who live in California, the consequences so far have been noticeable, but manageable. Where they live, new restrictions and penalties have been put into place to encourage residents to limit their water usage. Restaurants are no longer allowed to provide water unless it’s been ordered, residents must reduce their use of water for landscape irrigation or pay a fine, and home car-washing is strictly forbidden (I know, tragic).

In order to comply with the new restrictions, my dad has developed an intricate system for collecting and reusing water. Crafty guy that he is, he’s placed buckets in each shower and sink so that the majority of water used can be collected and reused to flush toilets and water plants. I commend my dad for going the extra mile, but I don’t think my mom will be thanking him anytime soon. A few months ago she hurt her back attempting to lift one of the buckets and carry it downstairs. Water’s heavy, you know.

In addition to these changes, my dad has “suggested” new bathing procedures. All shampooing, conditioning, and shaving should occur when the water is turned off. My poor mom is not amused. Clearly, my dad has never attempted to dry shave his legs before, or he might rethink this one.

This is serious stuff.

I giggle when I think about the ways my family and friends are coping with the drought, but I have to remind myself that it’s no laughing matter. If this drought continues, how will California ensure all of its citizens have access to water? And how will it grow its crops? California contributes 15% of total US agricultural exports (ever had our avocados? They’re the best).

Doug Carlson, a Department of Water Resources information officer, says that "If the drought continues and there needs to be cutbacks, then it's very likely that the cutbacks will occur to the agricultural sector," (which consumes about 80% of the state’s water).

If this happens, the entire nation will be affected. Check out this tweet from Arthur Brodsky:

But why?!?

A lot of people look at the current drought in California as a prime example of climate change, but scientists are quick to point out that specific weather events can’t be attributed to global warming. What we do know is this: as temperatures rise, we’re likely to experience more extreme weather, like what’s being experienced in the Golden State. Slate's Eric Holthaus said it best: “when it comes to drought in the West, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet”.

While it’s easy to blame Mother Nature for yanking up the thermometer, it’s important we consider our own complicity.

Most scientists agree that the main contributor to climate change is human expansion of the greenhouse effect. Essentially, we’re putting too many greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which in turn trap heat and prevent it from escaping. World leaders are meeting in December to commit to new carbon reduction targets, but we all have a role to play in reducing our carbon footprint.

Additionally, it’s time to face a hard truth. Plain and simple- most of us live unsustainably. We leave the lights on when we leave a room, we throw out food, we drive alone instead of carpool, and we use a shi* ton of water. Looking forward, we’re going to have to rethink our consumption if we want to avoid situations like the one in California.

If we don’t step up, who will? It’s on us to take care of one another and our planet.

In September, the UN will agree on a new global development to-do list (the Sustainable Development Goals, or "SDGs") that will pick up where the last to-do list from 2000 left off (known as the Millennium Development Goals or "MDGs"). Then, in December, the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris will set new climate action targets, which are vital in combating climate change.

That’s where Action/2015 comes in. Action/2015 is a citizen’s movement of hundreds of organizations around the world demanding truly ambitious agreements on poverty, inequality and climate change in 2015. Global Citizen has joined the movement and we want you to be a part of it. Sign up to get involved!

Ready to make some changes? Check out these blogs/ op-eds/ articles for inspiration.

- Meat makes the planet thirsty- an op-ed explaining the meat industry’s role in water shortages

- Eat your way to a better future with these 8 easy steps - self explanatory?

- This girl has produced less trash in one day than most do in year- how to produce less waste

- Stand for trees and do a tonne of good - how to make a difference today by reducing your carbon footprint

- How to be a responsible consumer- a must read

Click for more Action/2015 content