Community-Based Drought Response

There’s a lot of attention on the drought in California, which produces much of the country’s produce, nuts, and dairy. Last month, California Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order with emergency regulations for water conservation, calling for a 25% reduction of water use among households and some businesses.

Fortunately, these restrictions are achievable for most households to implement through moderate changes to home and outdoor water use practices, like fixing indoor leaks, sheet mulching, and replacing water-thirsty lawns with drought tolerant plants. Grassroots groups like Transition Initiatives and permaculture guilds have an important role to play in implementing and spreading household and community-based water conservation initiatives.

Last week, Transition, permaculture, environmental and food justice organizers along with local government officials participated in a call hosted by the emerging Northern California Community Resilience Network on “Community-based Approaches to the Drought.”

The goals of the call were to learn about community-based drought response efforts already happening throughout Northern California, share ideas and resources, and explore opportunities for collective action and to leverage additional resources to support this critically important work. You can see the call outline and presentation here.

Many participants were already involved with or leading local water conservation projects that could be scaled up with increased funding and resources, including:

  • Raising awareness and hosting workshops on graywater, rainwater catchment, sheet mulching, and drought tolerant planting;
  • Transition Streets, a neighborhood-scale project to reduce household energy and water use which has been tested by four communities in California;
  • and the Community Resilience Challenge, a coordinated action campaign happening throughout Northern California and across the US from March-May anchored by Daily Acts.

If robustly supported and scaled up, these proven projects could significantly help local governments meet their water conservation targets.

Restrictions have yet to be levied upon California’s agriculture industry, which is estimated to use about 80% of all water consumed in the state. At the same time, thousands of California farm workers have already lost their jobs—many dependent on over-burdened food banks—and must be included in any drought response.

Some participants in the call expressed interest in collaborating on a larger scale coordinated campaign, project, or policy work to address water use by industrial agriculture in CA. Conversations and organizing will continue into the summer with a retreat hosted by the Northern California Community Resilience Network in June.

In addition, there is a role for popular education across the US on the vulnerability of our food system in relation to CA’s water situation and the importance of building vibrant local and regional food systems.

The drought in California is a glimpse of what’s in store as the impacts of climate change become more apparent. It’s an opportunity to make important changes that will make our communities and life support systems (like water and food) more resilient. And there’s a vital role for Transition and other community resilience-builders to roll up our sleeves and spread the solutions we know we need. Now’s the time to step up our organizing and call in the resources and support to make our vision a reality.

Photos (from top): Sebastopol City Hall Lawn Transformation (2014), Water Protest in the Central Valley (2009), Graywater Installation.

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