California Dreamed

California dreamin’. We’ve all grown up with the promise of California, that place out West where the other coast meets up against the rest of the world, that has grown from a frontier opportunity and golden dream to a magical place that supplies our bodies with fruits and vegetables in fulsome variety and amount .

But today California, like many other places on this earth, faces a fundamental challenge to its existence, its economy, its lifestyle, and its sense of place and self. What is different? It’s the water. Or the absence thereof.

It was that water of course that built California and opened the west. Yes, there was western expansion, the lure of found gold, free land, benign weather, and infinite opportunity. The California dream, once begun, has never really ceased its powerful attraction. The psyche extends from Baja to Puget Sound, as Portland and Seattle expand on the concept, even as they object to those California license plates they see now headed north. Where do our children look for a future? Again and again, I hear the best and the brightest abandoning the declining urban infrastructure of the Atlantic cities for the lure of a future out west that still appears golden.

That success was built on water – on the diversion of the great western rivers, large engineering projects, the dams and canals that brought water from the mountain ranges to turn the desert green, nurture the trees and plants and vines, and send that resultant bounty worldwide. California politics revolved around water rights and management. California markets epitomized the possibility of the increasing population and food demands of the US could be met, and then some through export of output and experience. As long as the water, like the center, was able to hold.

The world water crisis is the single-most challenging aspect of the future, worldwide, to be dramatically exacerbated by climate circumstance derived from an extraction-based, unsustainable global consumer economy that does not conserve, continues to waste water without constraint, and withdraws and poisons an ever-increasing volume on earth both in the aquifer and the watershed the full length of the water cycle from ocean to atmosphere to mountain-top to riverine system to the ocean once again. We have spoken here of “peak water.” It is here now,  unless we act urgently and accordingly.

California is looking now to conservation, restriction, rationing, pricing, and desalination of the ocean. No water now will be exempt from a true value calculation and real cost, and the resultant distress will be palpable in California and other western states in the US, just as it has been in Sao Paolo, Brazil, in the Middle East, and in Africa where water has been the center of civilization for all time.

This cannot and will not be a quiet, evolutionary fix. As we continue to argue here, the solution lies in an entirely new value proposition, built around the rightful use and distribution of water, that will change our behavior, realign our strategic investments, reallocate our assets, and change how we govern ourselves worldwide. There is promise here, perhaps a new California dream, but only if we listen, and accept responsibility for the future, and talk action.