Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Drought Could Force Change among Leaders

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Drought Could Force Change among Leaders

Article excerpt

It's something of a relief, if a mixed one, that the drought has surged into the role of the latest scourge to freak out California. It's a relief in the sense that it means that the California economy, so recently frighteningly rocky, has receded as the top- billed problem facing the state, even if the recovery is more patchy and vulnerable than anyone might wish.

But it's mixed, of course, because the drought carries its own dangers, and the ultimate solution - rain - remains wholly out of the power of politicians or other Californians.

Fresh signs arrived last week that Californians are taking the drought seriously - and taking it seriously across the state, which has not always been the case during past droughts.

State water officials announced Thursday that urban water users had exceeded Gov. Jerry Brown's demand in June by trimming usage by 27 percent. That followed a May cutback of almost 29 percent, which, like June's figure, was above Brown's mandatory 25 percent cut.

The other sign that residents are taking the state's water woes seriously was a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, which said that almost 6 in 10 people considered the drought the most important environmental issue facing California. A year ago, only 35 percent of Californians held the same view.

The drought has set off alarms about the longer-term effects of global warming, the poll found. All told, almost 2 in 3 Californians said climate change had contributed to the current drought. It was a view held in all areas of the state, dissolving the usual split between coastal liberals and inland conservatives.

Asked if climate change poses a threat to California's economy and quality of life, 79 percent of residents said it did. That question underscored the fact that the state's burgeoning ranks of minority voters are driving environmental concerns: 90 percent of Latinos saw climate change as a threat, as did 88 percent of Asians and blacks. A smaller 70 percent of white voters were similarly concerned.

The high level of concern, if sustained, could reinforce political change. The poll found that nearly two-thirds of Californians wanted the state to set its own climate change policy and not leave it to the federal government, a view shared by Brown, a Democrat, and his predecessor, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, both of whom have pushed California to be ahead of the pack.

The political potency of the drought could also be seen in two unrelated events.

On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a challenge to entrepreneurs to solve the state's water needs. The winning teams will work with the Silicon Valley-based Singularity University, which will connect them with tech experts and potential financial backers.

Newsom, in a statement, said his goal was "to activate the incredible talent and ingenuity of Californians and the SU global community to solve 21st century challenges with 21st century solutions. …

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