Saturday, August 29, 2009

Long and About Water

Actually, I have as long as I need. I just had a really busy week where I drove 1600 miles for work this week. That is a lot of windshield time, considering I had at least 5 hours of meetings every day. To say the least I am tired. And I have not kept up on journaling or anything else.

I did take 20 minutes and go through the water museum or exhibit at Pyramid Lake outside of LA. There, they have more or less models of the California water system with all its canals. It is worth the stop just to see what the history of water diversions has been in CA. The pictures of the Sacramento-San Juan Delta region before all the diversions are amazing. There are only a few, but it gives you an idea of the raw beauty there.

I had the heartbreaking site on the ride down to LA from the north of dead orchards. Miles of them. There is no water for them in natural form and the water rights that were used to obtain water for these trees were junior rights (meaning that in drought they weren't available and being planted in near desert conditions they died) or the water rights were sold to developers so they could build more subdivisions around LA. Just yesterday an orchard sold the water rights that had been used for 2200 acres of fruit trees to developers in LA county so they could have water. It is sad to see so much dead wood. But I have to ask, is it worse to have dead trees or a mall where neither should be in the first place.

The Central Valley in CA is a very fertile place, when there is water. You just have to pump it from somewhere else. Look at a map and see how far it is from Sacramento to LA. That is how far the water is pumped, and over at least two mountain ranges. I just found out that much of the water for the coastal cities, like Santa Barbara, also comes from Sacramento in another diversion.

CA is so weird about water, it dries up lakes, moves rivers, kills all native wildlife just to move water for farming. Right now there are signs all up and down the state that say "Congress Created Desert!" This means that CA is trying to keep water flowing to the Delta, just to keep a salmon population alive. It has dropped by almost 98% in the past few years. It is simplistically put as pitting farmers and their needs against fish. More realistically, it is farmers needing water in near desert conditions against fishermenr and the global food chain. Or global food chain versus cities. LA and San Diego could not exist without the water from the Delta and the Colorado River. The Colorado River used to reach the ocean in Mexico. It barely does now and is so saline it has little life in it. The whales that used that bay to mate and raise young cannot go there any more because it is a mudflat. Almost no water gets there! The US had to build a desalinization plant on the river to guarantee fresh water to mexican residents. The salt comes from irrigation. Water used for irrigation pulls the salts from the soils and deposits them back into the river when it flows back to the river.

There is a need for common sense here. CA (maybe the world) has outdated water thinking. There is only so much to go around. And what are the available stores in a drought condition. What is sustainable? A Dutch water geek came up with a term "virtual water" that makes sense. Trouble is it can change national economies. Why grow corn in Phoenix? Wheat in Egypt? when it is more water-wise to ship it in from a moist place? In Colorado, water law has gotten to the point that if you take water out of one river system, you have to return it to that system in clean enough form to be reused in drinking water and for wildlife. Water rights are determined in acre-foot units, meaning in drought time or times of low snow pack you may only get a percentage of an acrefoot, depending on availability. CA has no such restrictions. They do not monitor well pumping in CA either so wells are being pumped so hard, the ground in some areas is dropping one foot per year. Other states monitor well withdrawal to disalow ground compaction and sink holes.

Another area that I saw signs raling about current conditions is that Sacramento and Stockton discharge sewage to rivers that becomes irrigation water. Hey, no kidding. The issue is not that this exists, it exists all over the world. The Boulder, CO wastewater outfall is upstream from the Louisville water intake. The issue is that there are not tight discharge standards for wastewater. The excess nutrients discharged from wastewater plants can cause water degradation. This is a new topic for the EPA to address nationwide. This causes real big dead spots in waterways. You know, areas where algae grew so thick because of excess nutrients, when the algae dies (at night, no light to keep it growing) it sucks up all the oxygen in the water and everything there suffocates. period. Most fish kills are caused by this. Again CA is way behind the curve. There was one sign of hope last week as San Diego now has to treat their sewage to secondary standards before discharging iot to the ocean. Until now, they had allowed settling and chlorination. Think of what goes down your toilet, mix it up real good (use your imagination) and let it settle and then think if this is what you want sent out to the lake or river next to you, knowing that the settled goods will only settle maybe 60-75% of the debris. YUCK!!! and people swim in that. San Diego was so surprised they have no real contingency plan. They thought they were immune because they were too big.

One other item that has come up is that small amounts of herbicides are more dangerous that what was previously thought
. It is becoming obvious that weedkillers are overused and make their way into the waterways. And they can cause cancer and mutagenic changes at much lower doses than previously thought. Nice.

Another bright note, though, is that CA is ahead of the EPA in regulating Chromium 6 in drinking water and has come up with standards. There are no federal standrards to date. This is a pollutant made famous by Erin Brokovich.

So much for water musings over one week.

Let's Dance. Even Sir nose has to dance when hit with the Bop Gun! Turn up the Bass!


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