California is Dry…and Sinking Too Words by: Chamarra McCrorey


California may become the next Atlantis as its land is sinking at a rate of more than 2 inches per month, NASA satellite imagery reveals.

California has entered its fifth year of a severe drought that has had detrimental effects on its agriculture and economy. According to the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis, “The severe statewide drought could cost California’s agriculture industry $2.2 billion…and lead to the loss of more than 17,000 jobs.” The drought and California’s Appropriative Water Rights, which allocates water to specific areas of the state while prohibiting access to others, is causing farmers to take extreme measures for their crops. Pumping fresh ground water by the gallons is causing subsidence, the process of sinking.

What’s causing such a terrible drought?

 Some are suggesting climate change as the culprit.  According to US News, “Climate change is linked to California’s drought by two mechanisms: rising temperatures and changing atmospheric patterns conducive to diminishing rains.”

Climate change is causing record-breaking temperatures, warmer winters, and ultimately, less snowpack. Snow is converting to rain and soil is drying out.

Why is the snowpack so important?

The snowpack “provides about a third of California’s total water supply.” No snowpack means no water which is exactly why California is facing one of the worst droughts in years.

How is California’s drought affecting every other state?

It is natural to think that if you are not living in California, you are not affected by the drought, right? Well, California’s drought has actually caused: 

-Increased food cost

According to CNN, the drought has “affected much of the country, as California grows more than a third of America’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruit and nuts.” Without water for their plants, farmers either have to lower crop yields or raise prices on essentials such as fruits and vegetables.

-Increased Unemployment

Since the drought, those who work the fields in California have lost jobs. As a result, increased drug abuse seems to be directly correlated according to Vice.

California’s drought and subsequent job loss, increased food cost, and subsidence shows just how much we can affect our planet.

What can Green Building fix? 

Green Building is the process of exercising sustainable building designs that benefit our planet and human health.

Some parts of California may ultimately become uninhabitable. On a larger scale, imagine if this same predicament happened around the world. With very specific practices, the effects of California’s drought could be tremendously mitigated.

What about recycling water?

Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Design (LEED) is a credential offered through the USGBC and GBCI which endorses sustainable strategies for buildings to increase water efficiency through reduced outdoor water use and the use of recycled water.

According to Jay Lund, the Director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, the use of recycled wastewater from municipal waste treatment plants may be a possible solution to the water crisis. In total, “California recycles only 7 percent of the 9 million acre-feet of urban wastewater produced per year, and the state wants to nearly quadruple that by 2030,” says Lund.

With wastewater, farmers can continue the irrigation process and successfully grow crops without pumping groundwater. In addition, Lund says this green process is cost-effective and mitigates the amount of wastewater discharge that goes into rivers.

What’s “vertical farming” all about?

While vertical farming is still a new and developing technology, it is causing a stir in the green building industry. Vertical farming, initiated by Dickson Despommier, Emeritus Professor of Public Health at Columbia University, is the process of growing plants vertically inside buildings through a process called hydroponics. Now, it is being implemented in China and VertiCrop in Vancouver, Canada.

Vertical farming has been proven by VertiCrop to:

  • Yield 20 times more crops
  • Use only eight percent of normal water consumption used in traditional farming
  • Increase food safety as plants are regulated indoors away from insects and without pesticides
  • Use less land as plants are stacked vertically inside a building rather than over acres of land
  • Provide fresh food to local neighborhoods.

While California may not be able to rise out of its irreversible subsidence problem, combining vertical farming with the use of treated wastewater rather than ground water just might solve its agriculture problem.

California is not the only place under threat of sinking; increased carbon dioxide is causing Amsterdam, New York, and Bangkok to face the same problem. As more detrimental environmental issues, it is crucial that we consider green building strategies and sustainable technology. California has a long year ahead to try to manage its dried land. Without focusing on improving current strategies, the question becomes, what state or country will be next?

Image courtesy of Jasmine Durhal

Chamarra is a recent Temple University graduate. She studied education but realized before finishing her degree, that writing was her true passion. When she’s not writing, you can find her sitting in the park reading, playing guitar, singing, or working on her sci-fi novel.
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