Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

Dutch Diplo Talk

Approaches to drought offered by a wet country

4 Sep 2015

Normally my blog is about something that happened last week. This time it is about something that happened in the last 5 years and is still going on in California: the drought. Everyone agrees it’s happening. The opinions what to do about it differ. In an optimistic scenario the next 5 years will be wet and local initiatives on water use (efficiency, reuse and storage) will be sufficient to solve the problem. In a pessimistic (I call it a realistic) scenario the drought will continue for another couple of years and a statewide integral resilience program is needed.

The water resource cycle in California is as follows. In wintertime westerly winds transport water vapor from the Pacific to the Sierra Nevada, where it annually leads to 23 inches of snow and rain fall. Water finds its way back to the ocean through the melting snow pack, surface water (Sacramento and San Joachim Rivers in the north, Colorado River in the south) and groundwater. According to the California Department of Water Resources (water.ca.gov) this water resource cycle has been disturbed alarmingly compared to earlier droughts. The snow pack of the Sierra Nevada is only 5 percent of its historic average, precipitation is lower than ever, groundwater levels in many parts of the state dropped 50 to 100 feet from their previous historic lows.

Reforestation is needed
Mankind can do a lot to change its water use. Agricultural irrigation, industrial cooling and household tapping can be done much more efficient, cleaned water can be reused, flooded water can be stored (in saturated soils and urban cisterns), ocean water can be desalinized, although still at a high cost. A wet country like the Netherlands has already achieved a lot in all these approaches. California is starting on this track as well. Good timing to exchange knowledge and experience.

Nevertheless, I am quite sure that will not be enough. Reforestation is needed, not only in response to the huge fires in recent years, but also to attract precipitation, avoid erosion and retain the water upstreams to gradually fill the groundwater shortage. Rivers should be given back their natural space, instead of serving as a storm canal (the Los Angeles River Rehabilitation program is an impressive example). And what about engineering? Being a Dutchman, of course my answer is we need that. That is to say, not only to channel water from wet to dry areas, but also to start including our natural resource water in our building activities.

This blog was posted earlier in Hugo’s Weekly.

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  • 4 Sep 2015, 14:22
  • Posted in Climate
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About the author

Hugo Von Meijenfeldt
Written by Hugo Von Meijenfeldt

Consul-General in San Francisco

Hugo von Meijenfeldt was appointed as representative for the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the 13 westernmost United States in August 2013.

Prior to his current position, Hugo was Deputy Director General at the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. He also served as Special Envoy for Climate Change at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2009 until 2013. In this capacity, he led Dutch participation in global diplomatic activities to reach a climate agreement.

Previously, Hugo was Director for Soil, Water and Rural Environment. For several years he held the position of Deputy Director for International Affairs, Chairman of the Committee on Environmental Policy of UN-ECE Geneva, and Head of the European Policy Division (including the EU Presidency in 1997). From 1982 until 1991, he was Legal Counsel to the soil clean-up division.

Hugo earned his Masters in Public Law and Policy at the Free University in Amsterdam in 1981. He is member of the WorldConnectors and the Sustainability Challenge Foundation.