The California (and Western States) Drought: Three Dot Lounge for May 13, 2015

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MERCED NWR: Tricolored Blackbirds Find a Home at Merced National Wildlife Refuge

MERCED NWR: Tricolored Blackbirds Find a Home at Merced National Wildlife Refuge

The Tricolored Blackbird has been a species in decline for years, and one problem is as the central valley has been built up they’ve been losing most of their preferred breeding grounds and end up breeding on cropland — which has often been harvested while the birds are nesting, causing major loss of chicks and adults. Some groups like Audubon have been working with farmers to pay them to delay harvests by covering their income differences, but with the drought and the costs that’s not always possible..

It’s great to see Merced NWR work to create some safe habitat for these birds and to see the birds adopt it. I think I need to schedule a trip out there to see if I can run into the flock.

The California (and Western States) drought

The California drought continues and intensifies. Local and regional governments are coming to grips with it and trying to figure out how to convince all of us to conserve (or in the case of people like myself and Laurie, more than we already are). There’s a growing realization that water isn’t an infinite resource and we’ve waited too long to try to resolve some of the biggest legal and political issues surround this (of which there are many, some dating back to the 1850’s).

But God help the politician that says “market rates”, because they’ll need it to protect themselves from the onslaught of abuse from their constituents.

California has a lot to do; it’s going to be tough, sometimes it’s going to be painful. The simple answers (“don’t grow almonds”) are going to be the wrong ones, but people want simple.

In the background, Governor Brown’s tunnel project continues it’s slow progress towards decision points. We have to remember any actual building is years (or decades) off, and activity with those tunnels a decade or more beyond that, so don’t let anyone tell you it’ll help solve the drought. It won’t.

Brown’s latest decision to pull environmental funds from the project seems to be a realization that he’s not going to get the support of the environmental groups no matter what he tries, so remove the funding for their parts of the project to get cost down because it might make it more palatable to possible supporters. The reason environmental groups aren’t supporting this is because the science and studies aren’t supporting the claims Brown has been making, and this looks to be more of a mega-project boondoggle than any real solution to our water problems. My guess is that this project will ultimately fall apart and not get built, but there’s still a good chance enough money will be spent on it that it will get momentum to actually build it, much like the bullet train project — another big money mega project boondoggle.

And we have to remember this isn’t California’s drought. If you look around, we’re seeing increasingly nasty drought or almost-drought conditions from the Pacific ocean to the continental divide, and from British Columbia to the Mexican border. It’s the entire western part of the U.S. — and into Canada and Mexico.

Stop and think about just how much food California grows for the entire country and the economic impact of that industry. Shutting off water to the farms isn’t the simple solution, unless you like the idea of $15 heads of lettuce and $50/pound steaks — if you could find a market with fresh produce in it at all. Do we really want all of our food flown in from chile and New Zealand?

Desalinization is one option that’s now (finally) getting serious looks, but it’s expensive and no panacea. So are the growing recognition that recycled water (i.e., the stuff leaving a sewage plant) is a valuable resource. Some people react badly to the thought of drinking that, but don’t realize that if they live downstream of a town on a river that sources their drinking water, they’ve been doing that all along….