California, the most populous U.S. state - if it were a separate country, it would among the 10 largest economies in the world - is being hit hard by the global economic crisis which was sparked by the U.S. housing crisis - partly rooted in Californian suburbs - and in addition, the “Golden State” is now suffering from “one of the worst water crises in its history” as Governor Schwarzenegger said. Undoubtedly this is the worst drought in more than three decades.
California is running out of liquid resources, literally.
Yesterday, after Schwarzenegger declared a state emergency due to the drought, he warned that he might have to order mandatory water rationing unless water conservation campaigns work. He asked urban water users and businesses to lower their water consumption by 20%. While all Californians should lower their water use as much as possible, golf courses are still wasting water excessively. However, major utilities like the L.A. Department of Water and Power have already voted to impose water rationing taking effect in May. If the water consumption of households or businesses exceeds their monthly allowance, they’ll have to pay a penalty rate for any water use in excess.
Next to golf facilities, California’s agriculture is very vulnerable to restricted water use. Wikipedia tells me that California is the world’s fifth largest supplier of food and agriculture commodities. Central Valley is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world. The Central Valley Project water system struggles to supply the arid southern half of the Valley with sufficient water. Water reservoirs in California as well as in neighboring states like Colorado are way below average. When farmland dries up, ten thousands of jobs are at risk. Many crops haven’t grown in 2008 and the outlook for 2009 is even worse.
Due to global warming, devastating wildfires and long-standing droughts will occur more frequently in the future. While droughts are quite familiar to most Californians, once arid areas which have been irrigated artificially over the last few decades will fall dry again. As Albert Hammond’s famous song “It Never Rains in Southern California” says, much of California’s sunny South had been semi-arid and were unsuitable for agricultural use without massive irrigation. With the state’s ailing and chronically overburdened water systems failing to supply the fields with a sufficient amount of water, the outlook is rather bleak for farmers in the San Joaquin Valley.
Low rain and snow fall early this year made the situation worse. Governor Schwarzenegger recently said that we “urgently need comprehensive water reform to protect our economy, our jobs, our communities and our quality of life.”
Next to the drought, California’s government is struggling to balance its budget. The states’ huge budget deficit requires that state employees take two days off a month without being paid. Schools are forced to make cutbacks. Tax refund payments are delayed while the country is suffering the worst job losses in 30 years. The unemployment rate reached 10.1% - the highest level since June 1983. Even Silicon Valley companies are laying off workers and shutting down factories.
The state expects some relief from President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package which helps to avoid that California could go bankrupt. These are incredibly tough times for the ”Golden State” and it will take an enormous effort to fix California’s economy and budget. Nevertheless, the state can benefit decisively from America’s shift to renewable energies. Large parts of California are perfectly suitable for solar power generation. The facades of the skyscrapers in downtown L.A. could be covered with thin-film solar panels. Shopping malls could install solar trees (Parking Lots with Solar Trees ™ Provide Shade for Shopping Malls) that generate electricity and benefit drivers whose cars will be kept cool while being parked in the shade of the solar panels. Electricity outlets could be used to recharge the batteries of electric cars while the driver is shopping. Silicon Valley is already home to Tesla Motors, a manufacturer of all-electric sports cars. BMW, the world’s largest manufacturer of premium cars is leasing 500 electric Minis to Californians to gain experience with the technology. (500 electric Minis coming to California)
The bottom line is that there are several opportunities out there. While California is struggling to weather this storm, we can only hope that Governor Schwarzenegger will work in tandem with President Obama to turn the undoubted center of the IT industry in America into the world’s center of the ET (Energy Technology) industry.
Check out my post “Is a global water crisis looming?” from February 24th.
An excellent article about “Solar power in the parking lot”