California is buckling under the strain of an environmental catastrophe — and it’s only going to get worse
Sunday, Mar 30, 2014
In a 90-year-old mansion built of hand-carved stones, my host lamented the dire water situation in Montecito, the millionaire’s haunt near Santa Barbara, Calif.: All of the Golden State was in a mega-drought. Things were so bad that not even the State Water Project, which serves 25 million people in Southern California, would deliver a drop for the first time in 54 years. Things were so bad that 17 small cities of field hands and trailer-park residents will have to truck in water by Thanksgiving. In fact, it was so bad that in Montecito — a lair of hedge fund managers, corporate tycoons and Hollywood producers — there may be no water come July. As our host went through this litany, my dinner companions picked at their food and politely murmured assents. Yet we all avoided the issues staring at us in this quasi-desert.
Finally, someone blurted. “Did you know that three mansion owners in Montecito use as much water as 300 homes in Goleta, a middle-class suburb 10 miles away.”
“We should print the names of those people,” said one woman.
“Yeah,” the man next to me agreed. “Shame them publicly.” Clearly only our host lived in this picturesque hamlet but the rest of us looked at one another in horror while trying to keep our jaws from smashing into our plates.
Was water about to become the next status symbol of the uber-wealthy?
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There’s an old saying in the West. “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.”
This year, water fights are breaking out in private dining rooms and public meeting halls throughout the West. Federal officials have designated drought-stricken parts of 11 western and central states as natural disaster areas. They stretch from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, to California, Oregon and Hawaii. But few spots are thirstier than the Golden State, where 62 percent of the state is now in an “extreme” drought.