Joining the Water People

A few years ago Carol Rawlins authored an amusing and articulate summary of the water issues that have faced California in the past and will continue in the future as the droughts ebb and flow across the State, and as politicians use water as a political football without finally solving the critical water needs of millions of Californians. Carol has read my book “Water Shock”, so we are both water people. She has used a Los Angeles Times article as the basis for this article. — Milt Burgess

I [Carol Rawlins] have been burdened with a condition for which I’ve had no name, but now, thanks to the keen eye of friend Ginny who has listened to me complain, and who spotted a pertinent article in the LA Times, we have an accurate diagnosis. A Times’ columnist, describing his friend who has symptoms similar to mine, wrote “Without even knowing it, he had been pulled into that strangest of California sects. He had joined the water people.

Water people come in all stripes – farmers, lawyers, urban developers, environmentalists, politicians, crusading journalists, duck hunters and dam-tenders.  They disagree on almost everything, but they share an all-consuming interest in California water. Unlike the rest of us, water people actually know what is meant by ‘acre-foot.’ They can tell you the exact number of winter-run salmon left on the Sacramento River and how much water is needed to grow a head of lettuce. The members of what some call the ‘hydraulic brotherhood’ monitor the Sierra snowpack daily and subscribe to Water Strategist quarterly. They still get goose bumps every time they see “Chinatown”.

Yup, I’m definitely one of them!, obsessed with everything about water, though.most particularly, the water in the Colorado River as it once flowed, and is now restricted, by dams and diversions, from flowing. I’m attaching a copy of the newspaper article so you can know the extent of my probleu. FYI, an acre-foot of water would meet the needs of a family of four or five for one year. It is the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land to a depth of 12 in., about 325,000 gal.(Grin) I don’t know about winter-run salmon.

As I recall, Kansas is involved in its own version of what the article describes, with aquifers’ shrinking, and legal troubles over I’ve forgotten what; rights to the Arkansas River? To know that we, as a nation, are on borrowed time, water-wise, one need only drive through the irrigated acreage of Western Kansas or observe the naturally arid state of the land on the outskirts of Palm Springs with its gorgeous golf courses or even El Cajon.with.its lawns and trees and then watch the puny stream that was once the mighty Colorado as it trickles into Mexico.

Twice now, I’ve seen the word “Californication”. I do not accept the term as more descriptive of here than elsewhere. We (did you notice that “we”?) just do it first and most; that goes for things good, as well as negative.

Back to water. Actually, it’s not people’s electrical needs nor lawns which are using up the water. It is our c1aving for red meat. Beef, particularly. If I’m reading correctly, 85% of the water being drained from the Colorado River, causing its impending demise, goes into the production of cattle and their needs. Perhaps if we all become vegetarians, eating from lower down on the food chain, there will be enough water for our other needs. Aren’t cattle one of the major reasons the Rain Forest is being cut down and burned for pasture land. Joan Kroc, owner of McDonald’s, our local richest person, is a philanthropic, loving person. Does she know what our greed for hamburgers is doing to the world? We can still “make the desert bloom”, if we make some different choices. If my figures are accurate-that 85% of the water use in this country goes to cattle and their needs – why not raise cattle only in areas which are rich in water, which is not the West. Water law in the West is different from elsewhere. The one who first put it to use anywhere, even far from its source, owns the water rights, whereas in most other places, those who own the shoreline get the use of the water. One of the tragedies of the whole water business is that the 1922 compact and its updates which specified how much of the Colorado’s flow each of seven states and Mexico would get was based on erroneous figures. That amount of water never didmflow through the river. Later diversions and droughts have just compounded the problem. It looks as if, legally, the Indians own beaucoup amounts of water which they haven’t been receiving and.are about to go after.. Gird your loins! Plug your ears! More to come about the Colorado!

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