Saturday, February 28, 2009

California Water Emergency

Within the past 24 hours, Governor Schwarzenegger has yet again declared a drought emergency for the State of California. The Federal Government has joined in with the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture issuing a joint statment to the effect that they have formed a California Drought Action Team.

While both of these actions are necessary, they both also mislead the public in that they treat the current situation as an abnormal weather event and fail to consider that they could be only the beginning of a significant shift in climate, a shift that would make permanent the restrictive measures that are now being implemented.

I explore the impacts of this failure to communicate but you need to click "Read more!" to read them/

To begin with, the precipitation situation in California is, like always, a mix. According to Accuweather, some reporting stations are well above normal for this year with Fullerton being at 124 per-cent of normal (PON). But a large majority of reporting stations are below normal with Paso Robles at 51 PON while not far away Salinas is at 100 PON. Thus, the public perception of the severity of the situation will vary across the state based on local experience.

This is not just a California phenomenon. Arizona is also experiencing conditions that range from abnormally dry to moderate drought.

It is clear that there is a disconnect between those with the most need and those who have the most power. The Central Valley agricultural interests are going to be affected more than any other sector of our population. Urban / suburban uses are not generally for agriculture and the lack of water is an inconvenience for most, but will not put them out of business. For the farmer, especially the smaller family farm that produces specialty crops, this may be the end of the road. Coming at a time when economic conditions may make it impossible to get a loan to survive until the rains return, many farms may not survive, selling out to large scale corporate agribusiness.

California's Agriculture is a $30 Billion plus industry. For some crops (almonds) California produces as much as 80% of the world wide market. The loss of any significant portion of California's Agricultural production would be felt all over the world. At least the coverage in Capital Press is about as factual as you can get on this issue and Capital Press's California Editor, Hank Shaw, is one of the more knowledgeable journalists on water issues.

The economic impact in California means that the budget deal which the state legislature is now congratulating itself for having reached is already a failure. With the ongoing drought and the loss of employment (I saw one estimate this AM that it would be 95,000 jobs) state revenues will be further depressed and societal needs will increase.

I used the links from Aquafornia this AM to survey the stories triggered by Schwarzenegger's declaration. Most of them miss what is going on behind the scenes. Water is the most politicized issue in California. It always has been and it will continue to be.

The San Jose Mercury News coverage provides one of the few glimpses into the direction of the political pressure.
In an interview with the Mercury News on Friday, Schwarzenegger said the water crisis is "self-inflicted, it's not mother nature's fault" and said he hopes to convince opponents of new dams and reservoirs that "the emergency presents an opportunity," including creating jobs. He also said the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which supplies water to much of the state, must be repaired.
There are many who feel that the Governor's declarations of drought emergencies have been part of a push for more dams and a peripheral canal. This, in spite of the fact that the idea of peripheral canal positions the small scale, specialty crop farmers of the Delta against the big corporate farms of the Westlands Water District. It is farmer against farmer fighting of the rights to use water. Westlands and it's political friends, especially Congressmen Radanovich, Costa, Nunes and Cardoza will try to make it into an issue over the Endangered Species Act, but that is just a charade to disguise their resource grab.

In reality, the massive expenditures for infrastructure are not affordable now. There is not stimulus effect when no construction will be able to commence for years. Even it these facilities are built, the benefit of these new facilities has not been demonstrated. If we do not now have enough water to fill the reservoirs that we have, how will we benefit by building new reservoirs for a dwindling among of precipitation. It just does not make sense.

Greens need to be the one party who is putting forward rationale solutions to these problems, solutions that recognize the true impacts of climate change. For some reason, probably political expediency, these ideas are not connected; not in the rhetoric of politicians, not in the coverage from the press and definitely not in the perception of the public. We must change that.

The Green Issues Working Group of GPCA needs to re-establish a presence, put together of team of knowledgeable people and start demonstrating to the people of California that only Greens can show them the way out of our troubles.

Do not just read this post and walk away. This is one battle that we need everyone to join. Take our story to every media outlet that you can contact, TV, radio (and not just Pacifica station where the listeners probably agree anyway). Schwarzenegger is going to push us to spend $ billions on a 19th century solution to 21st century problems and we can not afford to let that happen... not from an ecological viewpoint and not from an economic viewpoint.

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