High cholesterol and diabetes: A leaner, healthier water diet

Delta-smelt-DVF-blogDecember 16, 2013

By Charles Gardiner, Executive Director

This is the fifth installment in the Healing the Delta series. Complicating the health of our patient is a complex mix of poor health management practices.  A lifetime of easy living and poor nutrition has left California as a patient with unrealistic diet expectations and resistance to exercise programs.  Faced with a short-lived future, there are encouraging signs of changing behaviors.

Delta Diagnosis:

High Cholesterol.  California’s Mediterranean coastal climate and arid inland climate provide pleasant, dry conditions for much of the year.  These conditions are ideal for agriculture, turning California into the most productive agricultural state in the country.  While the food and produce grown in California is critical for sustaining a healthy diet, California’s water diet has not been so sustainable.  In some areas, water use exceeds the sustainable capacity of groundwater basins.  Surface water supplies for irrigation are not sufficient to sustain agricultural needs in dry years.  The problem gets more challenging as growers shift from annual crops that can be fallowed in dry years to higher value permanent crops that require water every year.  This “hardens” agricultural demand for water in dry years, when fisheries need water most and conflicts in the Delta area greatest.  As international demand increases for California crops, new lands come into irrigated agriculture, placing additional demand on overtaxed surface and groundwater supplies.

Diabetes.  The beautiful California climate has drawn people from around the world to settle here and build families and businesses that continually reinvent the Golden State.  Unfortunately, lifestyle and landscaping practices have not fully adapted to arid California, particularly where rainfall is lowest in the southern two-thirds of the state.  New housing, urban growth, and continued expectations for lush landscaping expand demand for water, even with more efficient fixtures and irrigation.

Without immediate and continuous attention, unhealthy lifestyles put the patient at risk of further complications and increase health risks from other parts of the overall treatment plan.

Treatment Plan:

The patient’s condition is urgent, but treatable.  Recent efforts to measure caloric intake through metrics of per capita water use and groundwater levels have shifted attention to the overall health of the patient, a positive step.  However, ongoing vigilance by the patient, medical team and supporting family members is needed.

Lean Diet.  More efficient water use is the core of any treatment plan for California.  For several decades, urban areas have incorporated best management practices for conservation and efficiency into their water portfolios, with good success.  In many areas, growers have shifted to more efficient irrigation practices, in many cases driven by water shortages.  In 2009, the State established water efficiency targets to reduce per capita water use by 20% statewide by 2020.  Encouraged by State funding programs, regions have begun to work together on common water problems.  However, more work is needed—several areas are over-drafting their groundwater basins and/or looking outside their region for additional future supplies.  Healthy living begins with a sound commitment to lean, efficient water use.

Portion Control.  Historically, urban and agricultural growth and expansion has been built on a seemingly endless supply of water.  New storage and conveyance systems were built in the 20th Century to fuel that expansion.  Today, California has used up the flexibility and abundance in that system, so new approaches are needed to manage and control how we fuel future growth.  Cities and counties must use their land use authority to manage water resources sustainably for the future, particularly groundwater.  New storage and conveyance systems to increase flexibility and meet economic and environmental needs must include commitments and controls to ensure that water users do not repeat the unhealthy bingeing behaviors of the past.

Exercise.  Although many of us would prefer to relax on the couch and attempt a new diet, hard work and exercise are also part of the treatment plan.  Simply drawing more water from a reservoir or stream or drilling another groundwater well will not solve our water problems.  Each region of California must undertake the effort to change water management practices, and most importantly, invest money and time to change how water is developed and managed.  Hard work is needed to invest in reuse and recycling, groundwater management and treatment, desalination, and stormwater management.  Like a good exercise program, only the patient can do it.  Effort and self-discipline make all the difference.

Keeping the patient healthy for the future will require both a commitment by the patient to stick to a healthy diet and measurement and reinforcement by the medical team and family members.

Stay tuned for a future installment on the interventions to address the more serious addictive behaviors sometimes demonstrated by the patient.

Healing the Delta series:
Part 4 – Indigestion: Water storage to feed fish, farms, factories, and families
Part 3 – IV fluids needed: Managing flows for the ecosystem and economy
Part 2 – The heart of California: Congestive heart failure in the Delta
Part 1 – Holiday hodgepodge won’t help the Delta