Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The endgame for Feinstein's water plans.

I have always questioned the intelligence of those who, when faced with the certainty of running out of any resource would advocate using it up faster. Yet, that is exactly what "Drill, baby, drill" means. I used this argument to question the leadership of Richard Pombo when he represented my district and was Chairman of the House Committee on Resources. His goal seemed to be to make us run out of oil more quickly. Why, when oil will is becoming increasingly scarce, would he work so hard to develop those scant reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?

I take a similar attitude towards those who advocate for increased pumping of water in California's Central Valley. I don't care where they pump the water from, the delta, the underground aquifers of the San Joaquin Valley, it is essentially all the same, a limited resource from which they try to extract ever higher volumes of water. Where will it end?

It rained all day today and I took that opportunity to clear some of the reading that was sitting on my desk, unappreciated. There, I found the image of where we might be heading. Orion magazine ran photo essay following the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers of Central Asia. Each over 2,000 km in length, they flow from the mountains at the rim of the world to the Aral Sea.
The Syr Darya, which carries only half the water of its counterpart, is created from the Naryn and Kara Darya rivers in the mountains of the Kyrgyz Republic and Uzbekistan. Also dammed and diverted, it runs flat across central Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan, eventually draining into the tiny North Aral Sea...

Dammed and diverted is a description that might apply equally well to the San Joaquin River. The Aral Sea has been so cut off from it's sources that it has shrunk to a mere fraction of it's former size. The photos that Carolyn Drake took are a stark reminder of how a beautiful land can be ruined by exploitation and major rivers left to disappear into new deserts.

The photos are here. It is a narrated slideshow, but I was particularly struck by image #34. There is a cow, an old vehicle and a broken aqueduct no longer able to divert anything. Waters were diverted to support the growing of cotton, this being the only cotton growing region of the former Soviet Union, where resource exploitation supported a growing economy until the land was ruined, perhaps beyond repair.

NASA reports it just as clearly as seen from space.
The Aral Sea sits in the basin adjacent to the Caspian Sea in central Asia. Unlike the Caspian Sea, the Aral Sea levels have been dramatically dropping for several decades. The primary cause in the Aral Sea level drop is the progressive diversion of the in-flowing waters of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya Rivers to support a substantial agriculture business.

Is this the future fate of the San Joaquin Valley? It might be if we don't begin to plan for future use on a regional basis. We know that our population is growing. We know that the future climate will be more erratic that today's, but much drier. The days that we can continue to take and take more and more like the Soviets did for years, should be over, but not for Westland Water District nor for those politicians (Sen. Feinstein, Congressmen Cardoza, Costa, Nunez and candidate Pombo) who have not the guts to just say "No" to that very small, but powerful lobby.

In the case of the Amu Darya, nature may yet have the last laugh. In 1911, a 7.4 earthquake caused an landslide that damned one of it's tributaries in a narrow valley. The lake that was formed is about half the volume of a completely filled Lake Mead. Another earthquake could just as easily break the dam, or suddenly fill the lake with another massive slide, and the entire valley would be catastrophically flooded.

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