Friday, February 20, 2009

Turning on the virtual river

The need for an comprehensive overhaul of our approach to water has never been clearer. While California is in the 3rd year of a drought, recent rains in the bay area have some people talking as if the drought were over and we can return to old ways.

In fact, the rains have been spotty at best, good in some areas like the Santa Cruz Mountains and still poor in others. The deficit is so great that some areas are not up to normal after five or more inches of precipitation in the past week. So, what should we do? Click Read more! to find out.

Barry Nelson runs the Western Water Project for the Natural Resources Defense Council. He did a very good job of describing our problem in his post at the Switchboard today.
There has been a Catch 22 in California's drought planning - or the lack thereof. During droughts, we are too narrowly focused on what we can do in a single year. The truth is, in a single year, our options are limited to strategies like water conservation and water transfers. After a drought ends, however, decision-makers tend to forget about water and turn to other pressing problems. What we need to do is to launch an ambitious effort to prepare for droughts and a drier future. Even in this crisis, perhaps because of this crisis, there is a great deal of agreement about the path ahead of us.
Nelson is saying that we all need to work together to fix things, and that is difficult when politicians with the power to reach the press, are pushing for yesterday's solutions to today's problems. While he describes a consensus around water, I don't see that in practice.
This takes us to the most important area of consensus - we need to be far more ambitious in our investments in a new generation of reliable water supplies. Water agencies, business leaders and NRDC agree that four tools - water efficiency, wastewater recycling, urban stormwater management and improved groundwater management - what we call the Virtual River - offer the largest, greenest, fastest and most affordable opportunities for making California's water supply more drought resistant.
If that were truly the case, then the Westlands Water District would not have their congressional lackeys pushing so hard for new dams, more canals in a time when the current level of precipitation will not even fill the reservoirs that we have.

Congressmen Cardoza, Costa, Nunes and Radanovich, make like the Big Ag Water Chorus, two Democrats and two Republicans singing from the same hymn book. They want to make this an issue of the farm economy vs. fish because that allows them to position environmentalists as the unreasonable tree-hugging bad guys, out to ruin the economy. The truth is that this is more about the small, specialty crop farmers in Delta region being forced out of business to sustain the corporate agriculture of growing cotton in the desert or pistachios on marginal lands along I-5.

The time has come when the only way to a sustainable future in the San Joaquin Valley, and through the balance of water use, for all California, is to put Green Party policies into practice. We have the solutions and need to be all over the Central Valley, talking to farmers about water, enlisting the support of Joe Sixpack who likes to fish and is wondering where he will get good food if he loses his job. They are all against the status quo and we need to be there, all the time. It is the greatest organizing opportunity that I have seen since returning to my California home in 1993.


Amanda Crowe said...

I was once very uninterested in storm water management. That changed in June 2008, when I watched storm water manage to swallow most of the heart of Cedar Rapids. Now storm water has my undivided attention.

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