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Monday, 06 April 2015 05:00

It’s Time to Think and Talk About Water (and the Environment)

Written by  Vicki Thomas

column-4-6What do you think about when you turn on your tap to fill your coffee pot or to run a hot bath? Likely not much. You turn on the tap and the water comes out - perfectly clear and abundant water flows easily from your taps.

But this easy and abundant water is becoming a luxury rather than a fact-of-life. Think of California. Think of the images you’ve seen this past week in your newspapers, on television and online. Dry cracked ground. Brown grass. Blowing dust and dirt. Wilted plants and flowers. Empty farm fields.

These images signal a crisis. A water crisis. An environmental crisis. A while ago, we wrote about the World Bank Group report: Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal about the impacts of climate change. Consider this snippet from the November 2014 column about the environment, the weather, climate change, and the future of many nations (developing and developed):

On a global level we’re dealing with much more which will have an even larger and lasting impact. Consider these words from Dr. Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank Group:

“Dramatic weather extremes are already affecting millions of people,” he said, pointing to soaring temperatures in Australia this month and last week’s record snowfalls in New York State.

“As the planet warms further, heat waves and other weather extremes which today we call once-in-a-century events would become the new climate normal, a frightening world of increased risk and instability,” he said.

“These changes make it more difficult to reduce poverty and put in jeopardy the livelihoods of millions of people,” he said, and have serious consequences for development budgets, and institutions like the World Bank Group. (Financial Times)

Well, now it’s a reality. A reality for North Americans. It’s easy to ignore the consequences and failures of listening and responding to warnings, research, proof and expertise - until it’s staring you in the face. Until you have to limit the amount of water you let run freely from your taps. Until your front lawn is brown and crisp. Until the cost of food exceeds that which you can comfortably afford. Until you see the true economic impact of this failure to respond, plan and react.

Regardless of where you live: California, Michigan, Ontario, British Colombia, Vermont, etc - the impacts of what is happening and going to happen in California are going to impact you. Maybe not today or next week but you will feel the change.

This is why we can’t continue to ignore the researchers, scientists, journalists, and experts. These people are not crying wolf. They are telling the harsh truth.

From a recent article in the guardian.com:

“This was the first time in 75 years of early-April measurements at the Phillips snow course that no snow was found there,” the California Department of Water Resources said in a statement on Wednesday at the conclusion of a survey attended by the Governor Jerry Brown. It said readings from Wednesday put the state’s level of water content at just 5% of the historical average for the date.

“Today’s survey underscores the severity of California’s drought,” said DWR director Mark Cowin. “Water conservation must become a way of life during the worst drought in most Californians’ lifetimes.”

Many experts are questioning the efficacy of the water consumption restrictions announced by Governor Brown last week. On Wednesday, Governor Brown announced an executive order forcing a 25% reduction on California’s 400 local water supply agencies. At first glance this looks like a productive move, since these 400 water agencies control 90% of the water access in California.

But, just last year, the governor made a similar announcement ordering California residents to cut their water usage by 20% - for every month but December, Californians failed to cut back on their water consumption.

“Frankly, I wish he had issued this order a year ago,” says Madelyn Glickfeld, director of the UCLA Water Resources Group.“Things are so much more alarming now.” (economist.com)

Glickfeld suggests that to really institute change in water consumption, efforts must be made to change the way Californians think about landscaping. This updated landscaping approach encompasses the golf courses, large gardens, perfectly green grass and the use of turf. But for many Californians, this lush greenery is how they identify with being Californian.

So what does this have to do with business continuity and disaster recovery? Why should we be concerned with what is happening in California and beyond? Well, the trickle-down effect is huge. It’s vital to remember that nothing happens in isolation - jobs will be lost, food prices could potentially increase, people will be forced to move, businesses will close, and it goes on.

To really understand why it’s important to look at your business or organization and think about how you could be impacted by the tangential impacts of drought and other global weather patterns, consider this aspect of the water sustainability edicts in California:

Although communities have to complete plans for sustainable water management by 2020, sustainability does not have to be achieved until 2040. At present there is no way to monitor groundwater consumption in California, in the way that meters can track urban use.

“You can’t cut back what you can’t measure—it’s as simple as that,” explains Andrew Fahlund, deputy director of the California Water Foundation, a non-profit green group.“There isn’t much more the governor can do. He can’t issue an executive order on water rights,” he adds.

Mr. Brown addressed the tricky balancing act of urban and agricultural water use when he spoke with members of the press Wednesday. “Some people want to say, ‘What about farmers?’ And farmers want to say, ‘What about people watering their lawns?’” he said. “We all have something to do, and we can all do a little better.” (economist.com)

To read more about the situation in California: