16 Jun 2009

A Few Thoughts on the Crisis

...as in the crisis in California. No, not the budget crisis -- the water crisis.

I asked for these while I was writing this piece on the same theme. Although I was not able to use them in the piece (word count!), I do want to share them with you.

Don Wood (Sr. Policy Advisor Pacific Energy Policy Center, La Mesa, CA):
California is facing growing water problems because governments in Southern California have encouraged sprawl development into hotter regions, and increased population, even when they knew they didn't have guaranteed water supplies to service this population growth. Regional and local water agencies have promised more "paper water" than they knew they could provide to serve sprawl growth, and are now facing a situation where growing water demand will soon outstrip supply. But those agencies are loathe to design conservation programs that would really work, since their own revenues depend on water sales. The state does not have the leadership it needs to overcome these converging negative trends.
Philip Bowles (Farmer in the San Luis Canal Company "watershed"):
Through a cruel accident of geography, the people are in one place and the water is in another; while there is an abundance of both, only lately have Californians used their creativity to devise rational solutions to the problem.
Bill Hasencamp (Colorado River program manager at MWDSC):
Warming associated with climate change yields a triple threat in the water business; it reduces runoff, increases agricultural demand, and hastens the decline of endangered species further reducing water supplies.
And, finally, we have Lloyd Carter (former reporter who covered water and ag issues in California for 20 years for United Press International and the Fresno Bee), who went slightly over his one-sentence limit :)
There are half a million acres of selenium-tainted salty land in the western San Joaquin Valley which require drainage in order to stay in production. Those lands have been without an economical, safe disposal method for vast volumes of drainage water for half a century. Some toxic drainage water, tainted with toxic levels of selenium, continues to be funneled untreated into the Lower San Joaquin River and the Bay/Delta estuary.

Those half million acres of alkali, saltly marginal farmlands use an average of 1.5 million acre-feet of water a year, which would meet the domestic needs of 15 million more Californians. Continued irrigation of those poisoned lands by massive amounts of water pumped from the Delta is also contributing to the ecological decline of the Delta. Until the drainage problem is resolved, or those poisoned lands taken out of production, the major problems of water in California will remain unresolved.

Meanwhile, the fundamental problem of San Joaquin Valley is not lack of water but overproduction of many commodities causing downward pressures on prices such that small farmers continue to go out of business.
Bottom Line: "Never waste a good crisis" means a lot of things to a lot of people. Without coordination, their voices will merely cancel each other out, and those who set the agenda will get their way.