Wednesday, January 28, 2015

On drought

California's drought continues apace, and I'm sure we will soon see the standard cries to the residential water user to conserve! conserve!

I'm not buying it.

I've written about water at my old blog, "Ethics and the Environment" (if interested, read here).

Basically, California's borders are arbitrary, geographically speaking, and so to speak about a "California" water crisis is akin to speaking about an "Eastern Seaboard" water crisis, or some other similarly sized region.

Sadly, our attempts to conserve water via State mandate only ask for a 20% reduction in urban use, which constitutes roughly 5% of total human water use in the State.  If every municipality were to hit their 20% mark, we would conserve about half of all the water that goes just to almonds in California.  That is to say, we wouldn't do diddly-squat to really positively impact the drought on a "California" scale.

However, we most definitely harm local plants and animals by merely cutting back on water use without taking into account our own local watersheds and ecosystems. (Also, consider that "local" is on a California scale: some of the Trinity River, for example, waters Los Angeles some 600 miles to the South).

For example:  My little region has many small riparian corridors that provide habitat for a number of species, including ducks.  Last year, many folks cut back on watering their yards, which resulted in diminished water for their small, local corridors.  Ducks, finding inadequate habitat, went somewhere; my guess is that they were pushed into smaller patches of protected wetlands, where the higher water temperatures (from warmer climate+less runoff into them from the upstream corridors) contributed to unhealthy conditions.  It seems to me that higher concentrations of ducks would exacerbate the rapid spread of deadly diseases, such as the avian botulism that struck the Klamath Basin last year.

If, instead, people had continued to water their lawns in riparian corridors, would the subsequent runoff (with higher humidity and higher water levels) have helped to sustain local populations of ducks (not to mention the myriad other, at times endemic, species of plants, bugs and animals)?

Though my pond is ended, I will continue to provide water for drinking and for bathing for my local birds. 


Hippo said...

Man's attempts to manage are often fraught with undesirable consequences.

We only get about six or seven days of true rain here a year while sixty Kms up the road they suffer flooding every year! Fortunately I get as much water as I (and the villagers) need out of the well I dug.

Josh said...

Over time, we have come up with some decent ones, but yeah, we can mess up on quite the scale.

There are some okay ways to prevent flooding in ways that preserve habitats (levees set back from the banks 1/4-1/2 mile, for our Delta). Unfortunately, there are no quarterly profits in preserving habitats.