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Opinions are fun. My friends tell me I am someone with lots of opinions and that's fine since I don't get mad at others when they disagree with me. In this same spirit I am interested in hearing yours views as long as you are able to share your views without boiling over. I look forward to hearing from you. I tend to write in the form of short essays most of the time, but contributions do not need to be in this same format or size. Some of the content here will date itself pretty quickly, other content may be virtually timeless, this is for the reader to judge.

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California’s water shortage                                                                                     Print this essay

Posted at: May/23/2009 : Posted by: mel

Related Category: Environment,

So I should begin with some clarity. I believe that the state of California is in the midst of a dire water shortage. There is no great mystery in determining this. I am not a water expert, but the rules are pretty simple. The bulk of California’s water comes currently comes from two distinct sources, the Sierra Mountain snow pack and exported water from the Colorado river.

With less rainfall in Utah, Arizona, and Colorado, the Colorado River simply has less volume. Arizona has a growing population and this is also a factor. 10-15 years ago, Arizona could not use all the water available to them in the Colorado river so it was logical that they sell the excess to southern California. With growth in Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona is keeping more for them selves and therefore they have less to sell.

The Sierra Mountain snow pack is down. This is the water source for the Sacramento and American rivers which feed an aqua duct and canal system for distributing water across the state. It is really pretty easy to poke a ruler into the snow and figure out how much is there. I know, there are also more elaborate measurements and calculations made for density and overall water content. Effectively, it is straight forward to figure out how much water is being stored in the form of snow and ice in the Sierra’s. The report is that there is not enough water this year in the mountains.

If all of this is so obvious, what am I writing about? I am concerned about the other decisions being made that either make this situation worse, or impede the progress towards making more water available in the future. We need to be clear on a few basic things. California’s population has grown, and will continue to grow. Even if we had enough water this year, 5 years or more down the road this situation is just going to explode into a catastrophic mess.

I consider myself environmentally conservative. I grew up doing a lot of hiking and camping. I enjoy the natural beauty of the out of doors and feel we have an obligation to protect it as best as we can. In my youth I planted over 3000 trees in areas that had been devastated by fires. I have also done many miles of trail improvement and repair to allow access to natural areas while protecting the areas from excessive human traffic. I think my environmental credentials are really pretty good. But I also respect the importance of making decisions that support humanities existence.

In court a little over a year ago a ruling was handed down to have more water flow through the Sacramento River delta to protect an endangered fish species. I don’t wish to force a species into extinction, but this also diverted a lot of water that would otherwise have been available for human use. California has a very long Pacific Ocean coast line. In San Diego County there has been an effort to build a desalination plant that would produce enough fresh water to virtually eliminate the shortage in that part of the state. The law suites being filed by various environment groups have pushed this project back by many years. Yet the water shortage persists while we sit parked next to an ocean. At some point reality needs to be a priority. Protecting all species of animal life at the expense of a growing human population is just not realistic. Trying to preserve every mile of coastline in some imagined “pristine natural state” while depriving our growing humanity of the opportunity to create fresh water where it wasn’t previously is just not realistic. At some point preserving humanity needs to supersede protecting the delta smelt. With 70% of the world covered by oceans, it is time to start using our technologies to create fresh water from this vast resource.

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Thomas P. Murphy
Minutes are worth more than money. Spend them wisely.
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