Turning Water into Wine

19 May

While the statewide battle over water resources continues, a ruling yesterday by U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger may prove beneficial to California agriculture interests, including many grape growers of the Central Valley and Southern California.  In the court case, which challenged restrictions on water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta created to protect the future of salmon and other fish, Judge Wanger held that the restrictions “lack factual and scientific justification, while effectively ignoring the irreparable harm those actions have inflicted on humans and the human environment.”

Fisheries and conservationists maintain that the more water is pumped out of the delta, the more at risk migrating salmon are.  In 2008, Wanger ruled in favor of the fisheries, concluding that water pumping had put the salmon population in peril.  In the current case, reflecting on the regulations that occurred as a result of his previous decision, Wanger concluded that the restrictions were a “product of guesstimations”.  He then ordered a hearing on the usefulness of the 7% reduction in water delivery from the delta that took effect in 2009, and how that policy should be amended.

As the debate rages on, lets take a look at the opposing arguments.  Fisheries and other environmental groups claim that dams and water diversions create an unnatural environment for the fish, in which they are frequently destroyed in the delta pumps or affected by the warmer waters created by the pumps.  The problem also affects other species of fish, in addition to killer whales that feed on salmon.  Environmentalists and fisheries seem to exaggerate the harm done by water diversion because that critical line where salmon will be detrimentally hurt, in addition to the domino effect on other marine life, is difficult to find. 

On the other hand, limiting water diversion has hindered the agriculture industry of California, especially in the Central Valley.  Many farmers have been unable to sufficiently irrigate their farmlands, those which provide our state and the rest of the country with grapes, almonds, pistachios, lettuce, and more.  Further, this has only exacerbated the lack of employment that is currently afflicting our economy.  The cutbacks on water have also severely decreased levels of drinking water in many California communities.

Many Central Valley farmers hoping to keep their lands from drying up are attempting to find alternate sources of water.  Fresno State recently held a workshop for local farmers on building wells to replace the shorted amounts flowing from the Sacramento delta.  Well water tends to be of lower quality though, containing some harmful substances and levels of sand.  In order to get higher quality water, wells must be dug deeper and deeper, and need to be treated properly, which all serve to increase expenses for farmers already economically impacted by the recession and limited irrigation. 

Hopefully Judge Wanger’s decision will lead to a new policy which will find the correct equation for how to maintain fish populations in the delta while still allowing for enough water to be pumped out as not to hinder the agricultural industry and drinking water for many Californians.  Either side will likely never be satisfied though, as the amount of fresh water is on the continual decline due to increased consumption, pollution, and global warming. 

Other means of limiting the water problem are available though.  One method is limiting water waste, which is the responsibility of all California citizens, businesses, and industries, and can be accomplished by being more resourceful in using water.  Curbing global warming, which warms water and creates a poor environment for fish survival, would also help ease the water dilemma.  Hopefully green technologies, a decline in the use of fossil fuels, and an overall decrease in carbon emissions will eventually put the environment in a better place, at which point water may not have to be such a volatile issue.

Image credit to Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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