This week, looks like we’ll have California weather with sunny skies and temperatures ranging from the 70s to the 90s — nice and dry. I speak with some authority, having just returned from a week in the Golden State. My journeys were excellent, although I also found renewed gratitude for our humble Midwestern locale. We don’t have mountains and grassy-covered foothills meeting the Pacific Ocean or the vast flatland to farm in like in the San Joaquin Valley.
But, thank goodness, we have water.
California is burnt and crispy. The state is enduring a fourth year of drought. Some predictions see no quick relief for some water sources.
Wells that serve individual homes and one of the nation’s most important regional farm economies are drying up. Drilling deeper for water is underway.
But draining aquifers is not a recipe for a healthy future.
Snow has diminished in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. Snow melt water flows are far less than past decades, water that feeds rivers that water California’s agribusiness dominated central valley. During the day, air feels bone dry on a person’s skin.
Hot sunshine beats down a little hotter in a clear atmosphere with extremely low humidity. Grasses are an unhealthy, yellow color from dormancy.
Here in Platte County, heavy dew at midnight coated cars with moisture resembling a rainstorm’s aftermath as I searched for my car in the KCI economy parking lot. Daytime humidity in warm afternoon temperatures doesn’t seem as bad to me.
In fact it felt welcome, like an old friend.
We are water blessed. Not flushing a toilet every time is a patriotic gesture in California. Here, it may make a difference to someone watching their home water bill but not to drinking water supplies and the welfare of a fragile regional economy.
The Missouri River flowing past Platte County’s western boundary and southern tip never looked better to me. Most water we drink from the taps comes from the river, primarily via the Kansas City Water Department. The city sells water to various water districts. We don’t have to feel a touch guilty for requesting that the café waiter bring us a glass of ice water.
A rainy May and June in our region that led to flooded basements from groundwater now seems luxurious. Our trees and grasses are green. We could use rain, the late-August heat has parched our topsoil. But flowers in my garden are holding their own.
We’re a few weeks dry, not four years.
California’s relatively dry climate, growing population, and agriculture and industry demands set the stage for the state’s water crisis. This drought is only a severe hardship on top of water shortage and usage patterns that have been building for decades.
The attitude born in the 1800s that America’s natural resources are endless and can be used at will for profit, along with a belief that engineering solves all problems, plus greed and ignorance, led to the state’s thirsty 2015.
In the big picture, however, water and natural resource uses are an increasingly difficult challenge for all mankind.
Platte County need not think we will forever be exempt from water thirst. Mix drought with western states getting political clout to divert the Missouri River, who knows?
Some years ago, a severe drought and the river’s channel cutting ever more downward due to man’s modifications threatened water intakes for businesses and utilities. This now seems like a mild scare compared to what the West is facing.
But we best be wise and use water well as suburban growth changes our county’s landscape. There are ways to hold surface water in drainage areas for better scenery and groundwater recharge. Concrete is often not the sustainable solution.
I was blessed to see the giant sequoia trees during my trip. Their magnificence is stunning.
But other evergreen tree species among them can be seen turning brown. You see hillsides filled with dead trees in lower elevations in and near the park. Drought has killed about a third of the oaks in the region, one researcher recently told The Los Angeles Times. Mind you, these are oaks with small leaves adapted to a relatively dry climate.
Some scientists are worried that the day may come when water might have to be carried to the sequoias to keep them going through climate change wrought by mankind.
I hope Platte County never sees a third of its oaks and other trees dead from drought, but nature provides no guarantees. We can only do our part by taking extra steps to use water well, both for our times and the future.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.