Takeaway | Fall 2016 Issue

Solutions Worthy of The Water Challenge

Time is running out to address climate change; thankfully, there are many ideas for doing so.

By Jim Newton

AS THIS ISSUE OF BLUEPRINT MOVED INTO ITS HOME STRETCH, a member of our superb design team, searching for visual themes to unite the magazine, asked a natural question: Is the tone of this issue positive or negative?

Normally, that’s a fairly simple one to answer. But this time, it’s more difficult, and for a particular reason.

Viewed as a problem, the challenges facing Los Angeles and the rest of California regarding water are dizzying and dismaying. Start with the obvious: There’s lots of water in California, but it’s in places where there are few people, and there are lots of people in California, but they live in dry areas. Over the centuries, the answer to that problem has been to build gigantic, mind-boggling conveyance systems that siphon water out of mountain rivers and lakes and pump it thousands of miles west and south, sometimes over mountain ranges, to the farmers and cities that need it. That’s expensive, fragile and environmentally destructive, but it makes places like San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Los Angeles possible.

The state is growing, so it needs more water all the time. The snowpack, meanwhile, is dwindling, yet another victim of climate change.

That would be the negative.

But then one looks at the research featured in this issue. One group of UCLA researchers has painstakingly mapped water prices in Los Angeles County and revealed troubling inequities; another group of researchers from this university and others has proposed a solution — the creation of water markets that would more effectively distribute the region’s water. The result would be more fair, more efficient and a better use of a scarce resource. Policy makers take note: Here is a problem and a solution all wrapped up in six pages of Blueprint.

Those are policy issues, but there are scientific matters to address, too. Happily, that’s happening. Alex Hall has mapped the region and presented policy makers with sobering options for what this part of the Earth could look like if they act quickly and forcefully, or what it will look like if they fail to act at all. And Eric Hoek — the self-described “membrane guy” — is developing new technologies to make better use of the water we already have. His solutions could extend the water at society’s disposal, lessening the crunch caused by climate change.

That’s the positive.

Other work across California and beyond has demonstrated that science and policy makers can comprehend solutions, even if they require rethinking some of the basics that we’ve become used to.

The challenge of climate change is unlike any other confronting humanity at this juncture. Broad, urgent, collective action may yet save the planet for people; failure to act could result in nothing short of human extermination. That’s a choice that should focus the attention. The research in this issue underscores the depth of the problem and also suggests ways to begin addressing it.

Jim Newton

Jim Newton

Jim Newton is a veteran author and journalist who spent 25 years as a reporter, editor, bureau chief, editorial page editor and columnist at the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of three critically acclaimed books of biography and history, and he teaches at UCLA.

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