January 20, 2014
There is one “river” flowing at full capacity as California enters its third year of drought.
It’s the California Aqueduct.
It is fed by the water from the Sierra watershed captured behind massive concrete edifices such as Shasta, New Melones, and Friant as well as earthen creations such as Oroville.
Much of the 701-mile aqueduct — specifically the portion from the headwaters at the Tracy pumps to the base of the Tehachapi Mountains — flows through the San Joaquin Valley. Come March when fields are supposed to turn green and the skies are blue, the valley will in all likelihood be parched and blanketed in hues of gold and brown while orchards die, land lays fallow, and the heavens paled with wind-blown dust.
Further north in the Sacramento Valley many homes in areas such as Fair Oaks and Citrus Heights will have dead or dying grass with landscaping under severe stress from mandatory water cutbacks and emergency drought rules prohibiting outdoor watering. It will be worse in some places such as Willets where severe water use limits of 150 gallons per person a day will mean toilets can’t be flushed after every use.
It will be a different story south of the Tehachapi range.
Grass will remain green. Toilets will flush. Ornamental water fountains will gush. New swimming pools will be filled.
Those living in the Los Angeles-San Diego region will bristle at suggestions they are not reducing water use enough. They will point northward and slam those in northern and central California for failing to develop “their own water system”. They will argue it is unfair for them to suffer because of the failures of those to the north.
This will happen because it has happened before in every drought since 1977.
It started on Friday after the governor’s declaration of a drought emergency throughout California. State water experts, in a bid to convince folks we are all in this together, noted even though reservoir levels in Southern California are fairly high those in northern and central California are significantly lower.
Unless you are immersed in the dynamics of water in California on a day-to-day basis instead of just turning on and off faucets and live north of the Tehachapi Mountains, you will miss the point.
You will ask yourself why we should suffer when “they”— folks up north and in the central state — are the ones with less water.
You won’t realize that the only reason Southern California reservoirs are as high as they are is because of the long drinking straws known as the California Aqueduct, the Los Angeles Aqueduct from the Owens Valley, and the 242-mile Colorado River Aqueduct that have been placed in water sources elsewhere.
Imported water built Los Angeles and San Diego. It also supports San Francisco and gave birth to the richest agricultural region in the world — the San Joaquin Valley.
But nowhere in California besides Los Angeles are so many people supported on water diverted in such an aggressive manner that also wrecks havoc on the people and land of the watersheds that the water is diverted from.
Owens Valley is the extreme case followed closely by the trickle of muddy water known as the Colorado River that flows into Mexico after Los Angeles has sucked the life out of the river.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin watersheds fare much better due to a better run diversion system with a lot of help from the massive reservoir of water captured in snow that usually blankets the Sierra.
The economic devastation and ecological disaster that befell the Owens Valley and the final stretch of the Colorado River will be nothing compared to what can happen in one year north of the Tehachapi Mountains. We are being forced by political dynamics to take a bigger hit this drought even though most of the water Los Angeles relies on flows from north of the Tehachapi.
If you doubt that, drive over to the California Aqueduct in Tracy. If massive farms on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley are no longer getting any measurable water, why is so much still flowing south?
The reason is simple. It is to water the largest sprawling concrete and suburban jungle man has even known – that if supported on the strength of its own watershed – would have been stunted long ago to the size of perhaps Bakersfield and Fresno combined.
Until everyone that drinks out of the Sierra watershed follows the same conservation rules, we are not all into this together.
You might want to keep that in mind as Gov. Jerry Brown and Southland interests that are in bed with mega corporate farmers step up their campaign to destroy the Delta and further shortchange the north and central state via the Twin Tunnels.