Doug Sahm sang this song on the last Smash LP by the Sir Douglas Quintet, The Return of Doug Salada, which was released in 1971. There really was a severe drought in Texas that year, although the region has a long history of such conditions. Forty years later the state measured its driest year in history, with an average rainfall of just over fourteen inches (for comparison, the average rainfall here in Minneapolis is pretty much always over twice that amount). Sahm’s heartfelt plea has been felt by many in Texas over the years.
Sir Douglas Quintet records are about as precious as a rainstorm in Texas, which is why we’ve held onto this weary old copy of The Return of Doug Salada for so long. Its arguably their best record, even if it doesn’t have any of their distinctive hit singles like “Mendocino” or “Dynamite Woman.” And even though the jacket has been torn apart and taped together, the album plays without giving the needle too much trouble.
The most alarming drought in the United States today has held California in a stranglehold for more than four years. “Before and after” pictures are alarming (a couple examples are in an album here and and on California’s official webpage here). In addition to being the country’s most populous state, it is an essential food provider. Just about every kind of non-tropical crop is grown there, and it is our primary domestic source for many favorite foods: including grapes, tomatoes, asparagus and almond — ninety percent of the world supply of almonds is grown in California’s central valley.
A study produced by the NASA GRACE satellite mission shows a shocking depletion of groundwater in California, which is how the state’s agricultural sector has weathered its billions in losses during the drought. People living there are finding their residential wells dry as agribusiness digs deeper and deeper into the dwindling supply. In communities which now rely on water being delivered by truck, some residents are finding their land actually sinking.
In looking at California’s crisis, we may be catching a glimpse of the future for the rest of the country.
Last year Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the state’s first-ever law regulation groundwater usage. Even as the law takes effect, it could take decades or more before the state’s supply is replenished, and that’s based on studies that presume an improvement of conditions. Meanwhile, the rest of the country’s groundwater supply is also trickling away. Even though it’s perhaps the world’s largest supply of clean groundwater, the Ogallala Aquifer in the central plains is being depleted at such a rate that a University of Kansas study suggested 69% of it could be gone in fifty years. To put that into perspective, once dry, the Ogallala Aquifer would take about 6,000 years to be filled again naturally.
We don’t really have a solution to any of this — we’re just a neighborhood record store, after all. We’re just folks who were listening to the Sir Douglas Quintet this evening after closing up, and started thinking about the situation in California and the song our friend Brian Laidlaw recorded for a 45 we released last year. We Minnesotans take our clean water for granted, but we shouldn’t and officials have begun to look at changing regulations.
It seems like we’re going to have to change our way of living, to quote an entirely different song. Climate change and water shortages have been the source of unrest around the world for centuries, if not millenia. Consider water’s role in the Syrian Civil War.
We lose more than two trillion gallons of water each year to leaks. When you hear about our “crumbling infrastructure” during campaign season, you likely imagine potholes and blackouts, but our plumbing presents an enormous problem. There are still places in the United States where people get their drinking water from water mains made of wood. Meanwhile, the inefficiency of American agriculture is undeniable. We need to make systemic changes to how we use water, as well as how we move it. And that’s before we begin to talk about what we are growing — for instance, it takes 4,000 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef.