Winter? What winter?
Seeing the freeways clear out in Los Angeles over the holidays serves as a reminder that most people living here come from elsewhere, usually to exchange snow for sunshine. But this winter has been especially warm and dry, even by Los Angeles standards. Despite early season storms that created massive damage across the state, rainfall for the season is below normal and temperatures are above average. While it was really nice to take my kids to the beach last weekend while friends in Europe and the east coast were dealing with blizzards, it makes me uneasy. Even for hot, dry southern California, this is not normal. This is climate change.
We now know that 2014 was the hottest year on record globally. The rains of November and December raised levels at California’s largest reservoirs, which supply water for both northern and southern California, but basins are still at only half of average. California has entered its fourth year of drought and the weak weather systems we saw in January will not do much to ease it. More than 4/5 of the state is still in extreme drought. While we cannot with certainty blame the drought on climate change, it is at the very least exacerbating its impacts.
Though urban centers are not yet experiencing water shortages, even while mandatory watering restrictions are in place in LA County, water has already dried up for some residents in rural areas. Experts estimate that over 1 million California residents do not have safe water coming out of their taps. Irrigation water in some farming communities has been depleted, plunging entire towns into joblessness and poverty. For the largest state economy in our nation and one of its main food producers, this is a really big deal -for the whole country.
In addition to water shortages, there are less obvious, but equally serious, side effects related to our health and our children’s health. The CDC says that drought can reduce air quality and compromise the health of people with asthma when dry soils and wildfires increase the amount of airborne particles, pollen and smoke. Since my son has asthma, I want to do everything I can to help California get on top of this drought. That’s why I support California lawmakers’ efforts to ramp up action on climate change.
Governor Brown started the year with a rousing State of the State address, promising to increase California’s already significant climate efforts. To that end, State Senator Pavley of my local district has introduced a bill (SB 32) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by mid century. In addition, State Assembly member Garcia introduced AB 197, which would implement Gov. Brown’s inaugural pledge to ratchet up the state’s renewable energy target.
There is also great action taking place locally. Here in Los Angeles, the County is running a very successful program to help take a permanent bite out of water demand. The Los Angeles County Waterworks Districts are offering property owners $1-$2 for every square foot of grass replaced with water-efficient landscaping through the “Cash for Grass” rebate program. Different water districts are also offering rebates from $100 to $255 for very efficient clothes washers and weather-based sprinklers. Because of these water-friendly initiatives, once uncommon drought-tolerant landscaping is springing up all over the region. With the right incentives, most people are more than happy to do the right thing for the environment, the climate and our children’s health.