Ojai Drought Photo by: Victoria Loorz The Ojai Meadow Preserve, despite recent rains, shows signs of the severe drought gripping California.

The skies aren't falling

Ojai’s Facing Drought Together conference hopes to solve drought dilemmas

By Chris O'Neal 03/06/2014

Despite the recent wet weather, Ventura and California as a whole are still facing major water woes. This weekend, an eclectic group of professionals, spiritualists and concerned citizens will meet in Ojai to discuss the drought, its effect on the city and possible solutions from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum.

The conference, Facing Drought Together, will pair science with spirituality in a talk on the real possibilities of a long-term drought in the southland. Speakers Bill Patzert, an oceanographer and climatologist from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, and Victoria Loorz, assistant pastor at the Ojai Valley Community Church and cofounder of Kids vs. Global Warming, will share their concerns regarding conservation and ideas for changing the habits of residents who wish to lessen their impact on the water table.

Kit Stolz is a freelance writer who has covered issues regarding the environment for multiple publications. Along with Ojai Retreat director Ulrich Brugger, Stolz put together the conference in order to address the worsening drought situation.

“Our property is on a well, and our well has been showing signs of distress,” said Stolz who lives in Upper Ojai. “I brought in our well guy and basically he concluded by saying that if I were you I’d cut way back and pray for rain. I thought that sounded like good advice for the whole community.”

Stolz, who will moderate the talk, reached out to his friends in varying fields, including Patzert and Loorz, for ideas and solutions for dealing with the continuing drought.

Even after more than 9 inches of rain were received in some areas stretching from Ojai to Simi Valley over the course of several days last week, Ventura County is still far below its usual average. In a typical year, Ventura County should receive upward of 12 inches of rain in the period beginning July 1, according to the National Weather Service based in Oxnard. To date, the county on average has only received roughly 5 inches.

In February, California legislators passed a $687 million plan that will include money for communities facing severe drought conditions, where drinking water is running low, and to farming communities, including Oxnard’s agricultural area, where the drought has compromised the upcoming growing season.

Droughts are Patzert’s specialty. After waking up early on Friday morning to be sure that the drains in his home were working following the heavy rain, Patzert sat on his porch and enjoyed the sight and scent of the storm, saying that he doesn’t believe it’ll make a significant impact on the drought or signal a change in the weather.

“I think the gods are punishing us for our sins,” said Patzert jokingly. “When you look back at California history, it’s really rich in great droughts. This particular cycle is coupled to changes in the ocean circulation and temperatures of the Pacific.”

Patzert calls this cycle the “Pacific Decadal Oscillation,” which, while he says it is a natural occurrence that could last 20 to 30 years, is being exacerbated by human activity.

“The population of the state quadrupled, the number of water uses — urban, suburban, agricultural and industrial — have definitely gone up dramatically in spite of all of our efforts at conservation. So when we hit a dry spell, it’s worse today than it was 50 years ago,” he said.

As one of his ideas for conservation, Patzert says that replacing artificial yards — as in, the nonnative species of grass or other plants — with native species such as cactus and other desert succulents is a good first step toward making a visible impact.

“Part of it is Mother Nature, part of it is human nature,” said Patzert.

Loorz has worked with her son as an activist raising awareness on global warming. Loorz says that she is motivated by the need to connect people with nature.

“I know people in our own community who are completely out of water and other people say that [conservation] is voluntary and it doesn’t really matter,” said Loorz. “It’s more than ‘Here is some information on water conservation.’ It’s kind of dealing with everything in one place where we tend to pull apart the issues to better understand them.”
The climate science from Patzert, local stories involving business owners and farmers who have been affected by the drought, and environmentalists will all have a part in the panel in order to better associate the issue with individuals, says Loorz.

“If we can create this community identity that we’re in this together, then when it does get to the next level [of drought] we will have built the infrastructure of understanding and the ‘we’re in this together’ mentality,” she continued.

As part of the event, several members of different faiths will host a prayer. Spiritual leaders representing the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Chumash faiths will attempt to connect the community spiritually to the drought.

“How we treat the water and how we’re connected to nature is definitely a bottom-line spiritual issue,” Loorz said.

Patzert says that he doesn’t believe the drought has much to do with global climate change, but says that the cycles of droughts in the West will continue — and that we should expect that it will last much longer.

“Although the media seems to have discovered this drought on Jan. 1, 2014, this drought has been building for more than a decade,” said Patzert. “To get into a drought is easy; to get out of it is a slow crawl. As much rain as we might be enjoying here, this is only a down payment on drought relief. In actual fact, you’re paying for the next 30 years.”

“The human spirit has been praying for rain for a very long time,” Stolz said. “It’s very important that we stand together when facing these crises, and that calls for thinking beyond our little point of view.”

The Facing Drought Together panel will take place on Sunday, March 9, 1:30-5 p.m. at the Ojai Retreat, 160 Besant Road, Ojai. For more information, visit www.achangeinthewind.com.

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