So Who’s Fault Is This Water Shortage?

Can we all take some of the blame? Afterall, there is enough of that to go around

In July of this year the International Boundary and Water Commission held a conference in a packed auditorium of mostly farmers and water experts from Baja. They were there to express their concerns about drought in Baja and the viability of crop production in this area. The Los Angeles Times in an article about the conference said this:

“From San Quintin to the Guadalupe Valley to Mexicali, water has become a pressing topic for the state’s agricultural regions. There practically has not been one day since I became secretary that the main topic has not been water,” said Manuel Valladolid, Baja California’s agriculture secretary.

More than half of our state faces long-term drought conditions, with the most severely affected regions in the coastal corridor from Tijuana to Ensenada, according to a monthly drought monitor by Mexico’s National Water Commission.

Baja California produces a lot of agriculture, supplying Mexico and the U.S. with a variety of  crops, including tomatoes, avocados, winter fruits and vegetables, fruit juices and fresh flowers. Over 60% of Mexico’s agricultural exports go to the U.S. and its crops are a very important resource for both countries. It’s clear we need a long term fix for this water shortage. Much of our crops are watered by underground wells, but it seems we have been to the wells too often, with the water table descending to such levels that sea water is seeping in, and we’re often watering our crops with salty water.

The shortage of water in recent years mirrors that of California’s but the Mexican government has not taken steps to restrict residential usage, as has the state of California, although that may be necessary here in the near future. In California the voluntary restrictions have had an astonishing impact on the water supply, with people cutting back on water usage more than anyone thought they would or they could.

Most experts agree that there will be a very large El Nino this winter, but they also do not expect that to solve the drought in either country. An El Nino occurs when the water in a key region of the central Pacific Ocean is warmer than average and drives the prevailing jet stream across the Californias with its resultant higher precipitation levels. There is no El Nino effect unless the water is at least one degree F above normal for several months. But only when the water is at least 3 degrees above normal does it forebode a reliable degree of extra rainfall (and even more important, snowfall).

But do we have a water shortage or not? Ask the people in the mission area south of Rosarito Beach this question and they will say hell yes. They are so short on water these days they’re only getting the stuff out of their taps a couple of times a week. But as we explained in an article two issues ago, that is primarily due to mismanagement of the water we have, including a lousy infrastructure where pipes burst and go un-repaired, and officials wheel and deal for acquiring water as cheap and easy as they can get it, regardless of how short sighted their solution is.

Our years of limited rainfall has been exacerbated by our failure to add storage capacity, develop recapture infrastructure, or construct greater recycling capacity. And those failings of our government planning don’t seem to be improving.

In the United States, parts of which is suffering a terrible water shortage, each year the country gets about 24 times the amount of rainfall that it needs. The problem is in the distribution of the rainfall we get and in the retention of the rain. Pipes similar to oil pipelines have been suggested but they’re expensive and many of the people who decide these things don’t want to stick their neck out and support a long time solution to what they still hope is a short term problem.

There are a lot of variables that impact our water supply, from what kind of crops we plant, to what kind of lawn we plant, even to how we take our precipitation: snowfall is better than rain storms with their attendant runoff into the sea and floods triggered in the wake of the storm. Snow is a good way to store our water until it thaws out slowly, because then we have a chance to stash it away.

But here in Baja we need better retention capabilities, more and stricter conservation efforts, and more El Ninos to quickly crank us back up to normal supplies again. That is, an El Nino will get us up to snuff again until the weather gods inflict another drought on us, at which time we will be back to enduring rolling water-outs because we fiddled around and never built a solid, dependable water infrastructure.