Water Woes: Californians Begging Rain Gods to Fill Reservoirs – Again!

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By Leon Kolankiewicz

Leon is an Advisory Board Member and Senior Writing Fellow with CAPS. A wildlife biologist, and environmental scientist and planner, Leon is the author of Where Salmon Come to Die: An Autumn on Alaska's Raincoast, the essay “Overpopulation versus Biodiversity” in Environment and Society: A Reader and was a contributing writer to Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation.

In a career that spans three decades, three countries and more than 30 states, Leon has managed environmental impact statements for many federal agencies on projects ranging from dams and reservoirs to coal-fired power plants, power lines, flood control projects, road expansions, management of Civil War battlefields, NASA's Kennedy Space Center operations and a proposed uranium mine on a national forest. He also has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop comprehensive conservation plans at more than 40 national wildlife refuges from the Caribbean to Alaska.

The writer's views are his own.

November 6, 2013

There’s seemingly no end to the water woes and worries for Californians. Indeed, if current demographic and climatic trends persist, these woes will only worsen in the future … and severely.

This is a state burdened by unceasing, rapid, immigration-driven population growth – with no end in sight anywhere on the horizon just yet. California also is burdened by a paucity of authentic leadership, and little or no political will among the self-absorbed partisan hacks in either Sacramento or Washington to rein in the source of this unsustainable upwelling of sheer humanity.

A multiplying population forces ever-intensifying demands on overstressed and overstretched water resources, both their quantity and their quality. Thus, ever-greater water stress and scarcity within California are virtually guaranteed in spite of techno-fixes like toilet-to-tap technology.

As every Californian knows or should know, much of the state is arid or semi-arid. Irrigation water from aquifers, Sierra snowmelt and other mountain streams keeps the thirsty landscape of Southern California cities and suburbs at least a pale shade of green. Federal and state aqueducts and pipelines delivering water from northern reservoirs keep thirst at bay for more than 20 million Southern Californians. And without irrigation water, those famous crops cultivated in the fabulously productive Central Valley and Imperial Valley would shrivel up and blow away like tumbleweed almost overnight.

Lake Oroville in Northern CaliforniaThe Fresno Bee reports that California’s reservoirs are in "dire need of a wet winter." Holding only 16% of its capacity as of late October, Pine Flat Reservoir east of Fresno is a mere shadow – or puddle – of its former self. Massive Lake Oroville north of Sacramento is only at 44% capacity at the moment, which is just 72% of the historic average for this time of year. Even larger Shasta Lake near Redding – which can hold up to 4,552,000 acre-feet of water (that’s 1.5 trillion gallons, or enough to fill Yankee Stadium about 1,800 times) – is now at 39% capacity and just 64% of what it should be at the moment.

According to Mark Cowin, Director of California’s Department of Water Resources, California has not officially declared a drought but does need to begin developing water conservation measures now for next year. “Both the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project heavily depend on the Sierra Nevada snowpack,” he told the Bee. “We are now facing real trouble if 2014 is dry.”

Problem is – whatever happens this coming winter – the Sierra snowpack is in serious, long-term trouble due to a warming and drying climate. Scientists are projecting that at least 25% of the Sierra snowpack will disappear by 2050. This means much less water in the future for many more Californians.

Less will be available for Californians to grow our crops, water our lawns, enhance our landscaping, cook our meals, flush our toilets, shower with, pump our oil, produce our wine and microbrews, and manufacture everything from electronic and computer components to chemicals and plastics.

If our pathetic and pandering politicians in Sacramento and Washington get their way with amnesties and raising record legal immigration levels even higher, by 2050 there will be an additional 10 or 20 million Californians, on top of our nearly 40 million already – all clamoring for a diminishing water resource. The more, the merrier, indeed.

California’s “infinite ingress” will run smack into finite resources. Politicians and vested interests may bark, but reality bites.

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