Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Introducing Water Wednesdays | #1 Wasting Water

Most Californians are acutely aware of the current drought in the State.  For many - such as farmers, agricultural laborers, environmentalists and rural residents - it is a daily concern.  For urban and suburban users, the severity of this years drought may have crept into their insulated lives.  Water rationing, restrictions on water-intensive landscaping and pictures of dry reservoirs reveal the seriousness of the situation.

Last time the water outlook was anywhere near this bad it collided with my life, and the repercussions are still playing out.  The severe drought of 2009 caught my attention just as I was finishing J-school in San Francisco.  I missed graduation while photographing farm worker protests in Fresno County.  Since then I've followed the issue and made photographic trips whenever possible.

Context is often lacking in the public discussion about California's water future.  I recently read these words by Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife....

"..take a deep breath, put down the arguments we all had in the past and come together as Californians."

"This is not about picking between delta smelt and long fin smelt and chinook salmon, and it's not about picking between fish and farms or people and the environment."
         -Quoted in "California Water...", KPBS, Feb 15 2014

No reason to mention what is actually needed, which is collaborative, innovative solutions with as little political influence as possible.  Unfortunately, all sides seem to picking up their arguments and using them rather then putting them down.

I hope by featuring an image and a brief story from my archive every Wednesday, I can add a little context to the water talk.  And I hope you find it interesting.

#1  Wasting Water

Englebright Dam, along the Yuba River, spills 8200 cubic feet per second over it's lip during early heavy storms in Northern California.  December 2010.
Overflow spilloff is not the problem currently on people's minds.  However, you will definitely hear arguments about how much water is being 'wasted' (i.e., being allowed to return to the environment and the ocean).  This is why we need more storage - so we can save more for the lean times, like now.  I take issue with this reasoning for a couple of reasons.

The primary problem is that not many good potential dam sites remain.  From the 1950's to the 1970's (and 80's) America went on a dam-building spree, and California was a hot spot.  Do we want to stretch the limits of engineering in this case?

In addition, dams drastically alter the landscape, displace people and wreak unpredictable havoc on the environment.  Water stored in a dam sits out in the blazing sun, evaporating, all summer.  It develops molds and scums.  The amount of time and energy that currently goes into mitigating these effects should be enough to convince us to avoid dams.

Nature has a storage system.  Humans sometimes call it underground storage, or aquifers. Allowing more land in the central valley and neighboring watersheds to flood in the wet months might be a good way to store water for the future, without nasty dams.  Finding that land would not be easy.

Thanks for reading.


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