Monday, December 6, 2010

The Water Barons

Serious water issues are impacting California in the near future, particularly considering the Bay Delta fisheries collapse and the environmental degradation it has experienced from being overdrafted. The picture of ground water withdrawals above is from the Ground Water Atlas, online at the USGS website. The site is full of maps and charts illustrating the situation with our water use in this state. Most of the groundwater usage is in the central valley for agriculture, and also in Los Angeles County. In Southern California, this groundwater is not sufficient for our population or industrial/agriculture needs, so we rely on the State Water Project, the Colorado River Aqueduct, and the Los Angeles pipeline from Mono Lake.

Aside from the politics of multiple water districts and their subcontracts, formal supply requirements and allocation of water useage, there's the important issue of the agricultural water. It is being consumed by corporate farms for very inappropriate kinds of produce for the environmental conditions and fed by very inefficient water systems and meters. An illustration of this is a story from Alternet, which covers the story of Roll International, owned by the Resnicks, which controls most of the claimed water in Kern County. The Resnicks became billionaires growing almond and pistachio trees with their takeover of a public water bank. They developed this tree farm on the Westside of the Central Valley, which is marginal land that should never have been used for irrigated farming, particularly water-intensive crops like the trees.

However, the currently dying trees made for good copy for water demands based upon the lingering drought of June 2009 in the valley, creating the impression that increased water supply was critical to propping up this water-intensive crop.

This is an example of the very difficult situations that must be resolved with new Bay Delta policies that need to implement environmental restoration, system upgrades and repairs with a balance of appropriate allocations for use in California. We're at our limit of water consumption, with the aquifers being currently overdrafted and a dwindling supply of water from imported water due to climate change. The BDCP study shifts the emphasis to appropriate use and conservation rather than continuing to consume water in our current pattern. Reform of agricultural water use is thus a high priority. As the article points out,

The Delta is the hub of California’s water engineering system and the current focal point of the state’s infamous water wars. Environmentalists and Delta communities want to reduce water exports. Irrigators in the San Joaquin and their strange bedfellows in the powerful Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which draws water pumped through the Delta, want to increase water exports. There is one thing all sides agree on: The Delta is a disaster waiting to explode.