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Ambivalence About Water April 10, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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If you’re reading this blog in California, you know that the state is in the third year of a drought. Communities, especially in Southern California, face water rationing this summer, and farmers throughout the state have had their water allotments sharply curtailed.

The problem is exacerbated by a ruling from a federal judge that ordered cuts in the amount of water pumped through the Sacramento River delta in order to save a species of smelt that is endangered.

Of course, this is not simply about one minor fish species. The fate of individual species are indicators of the health of the environment. The disappearance of species suggests the local ecology is approaching collapse, which is the result of years of pumping too much water through the delta. We have known about this problem for years and have done nothing about it.

But the water cutbacks are devastating the farm economy and threaten the economic well-being of California.

Do we build more dams and suspend enforcement of the Endangered Species Act? That would reduce pressure on agriculture but would discourage conservation, encourage more waste of a precious resource, and create additional environmental hazard.

Or do we draw a line in the sand today and impose strict water rationing and conservation efforts, a policy that will cause a good deal of short-term pain on people whose jobs depend on adequate water supplies?

This is not an easy call.

There are environmental principles at stake. But I would endorse exceptions to those principles if there was clear evidence that developers, business interests, and agriculture had a real interest in long-term sustainable practices.

And maybe pigs will fly.