By Mike Stevens
Six years ago, my family traveled to the majestic state of California. Like many before us, we surveyed the scope of the land, from the dark green tree covered hills of the North to the aqueducts into the Central Valley, finally warming our Washington bones playing intensely in the warm surf of sunny San Diego. On the return trip, we followed the coast home. It was jealousy inspiring to see the land’s beauty and production. From Santa Cruz to Humbolt, the land was Walt Whitman incarnate: rolling, fluid, living with the transcendental glow that fuses the energy of humans in symbiosis with our greater planet…. So, we returned last year to see it again.
The first time we visited the Avenue of the Giants six years ago, we stopped and camped near the Eel River. After San Diego’s ocean beaches, it was like a salve to our blistered sunburns. The languid pools reflected overhanging sequoias and the chatter of the water soothed our ears. Have you ever dived into a river that was crystal clear, warm as a baby’s bath, and emerged feeling both baptized and refreshed? That was our day.
Five years later, we returned to the same spot. The water level had significantly decreased. Viscous brown algae accumulated everywhere, the water was shallow and stagnant. The magic was still there, but everything was getting drier, more arid.
We still swam. My youngest child was able to jump off the river’s edge and float tranquilly in the pool. A river otter caught a rainbow trout while we watched. The smooth river stones still reflected like a million silver dollars as the sun glistened off the ripples and eddies. Now, I wonder how long will this last?
Jerry Brown just passed mandatory water consumption regulating cities and people to reduce water consumption by 25 percent. Big Ag is unaffected, while using 80% of the water in the state. Snow pack is at historic lows along the western side of the U.S. A recent Mother Jones article tells us that, “The amount of water that was produced by California’s oil and gas production in 2014—which is to say, the groundwater that bubbled up during production and wasn’t returned to the original aquifers— was about 42 billion gallons.” Due to deeper and deeper drilling of water wells, the groundwater supply is nearly tapped out. The general consensus, according the LA Times on March 12, 2015, is that “the state has one year of water stored in its reservoirs.” Furthermore, as Mother Jones elucidates, “Farmers are drilling deeper and deeper for water— using water that fell 20,000 years ago.” Startlingly, this is causing land to sink up to a foot lower in some places. There are reports of surface level irrigation actually reversing its slope, presenting the problem of flow needing to go up hill to irrigate the crop lands.
I don’t live there. I have plenty of rain in my yard. My rain barrels stay full 2/3’s of the year. My garden is watered from a pond that is recharged with each rain storm. I routinely fill three 2,500 gallon barrels from my shallow well, because it does go dry in the summer. I’m going to be okay. But our planet, with all of the people, plants, and animals, is not. I will not be able to take my grandchildren to swim in the Eel river. But more than that, there are implications beyond my love of nature’s grandeur. California feeds the nation and world with its produce; soon, it won’t be able to feed itself. Already, small towns within the Central Valley have had their taps run dry. Imagine the price of food. Imagine the price of water.
As Washington tries to comprehend the state of our own historically low snow pack, Governor Inslee has already declared drought emergencies in three state regions on March 13th. This is more than just a ruined ski/snowboarding season. From hydroelectric power to real estate prices, Washingtonians are going to be effected. So, if California is our canary in the coal mine, and we watch as it suffocates on its own denial, consumption, and interests beholden to big industry; what are we doing? Bill McKibben’s Eaarth predicted that all this would happen. Perhaps it is time to rewrite our old adages to match our modern times…. You can lead a horse to a desert, but there’s nothing to drink, and the reason why doesn’t matter once it’s too late.
Article retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2015/04/everything-you-wanted-know-about-california-drought.
Article retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-famiglietti-drought-california-20150313-story.html
McKibben, Bill, Eaarth, Times Books, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, New York, NY, 2010.