Sunday, January 24, 2010

An ominous sign for the future of California

There isn't enough fresh water:

Mike Chrisman looks out from his SUV as he drives through seemingly endless rows of walnut trees on his property near Visalia, in central California. "I have to be optimistic, I'm so tied to this land," he says. His great-grandfather, after trying his luck in the Gold Rush, settled in Visalia in the 1850s, and the family has been there ever since.

But as California's secretary for natural resources – a job at the intersection of the environmental and farming lobbies, perennially at loggerheads over the state's scarcest resource, water – Chrisman also knows that optimism has become a minority view.

His land is in California's Central Valley, a region that covers 19 counties and stretches for 725 kilometres from the Cascade Mountains in the north to the Tehachapis in the south, and is bounded in the east by the Sierra Nevada and the west by California's Coast Ranges.

Much of it was an inland sea in its geological past, and its alluvial soils and Mediterranean climate make parts of it, particularly the San Joaquin Valley in the south, about the most fertile agricultural region in the world.

But this status is at risk because water, the vital ingredient to make the soil productive, is increasingly scarce. Some of the reasons are natural; California has been in one of its periodic droughts since 2006, and climate change is a long-term threat to the state's mountain snowpacks.

Others are political; the pumps and aqueducts that carry water from the wetter north to the dry fields in the south are creaking with age, threatening ecosystems and endangering species.
And the absurd thing is, Californians use insane amounts of water simply making their lawns and golf courses look nice and green. They really need a reality check, though I fear their answer to the problem will be to push for something like this.

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