Whisky’s for drinkin’…desal’s for fightin’

April 1, 2009 § 6 Comments

….Compton Creek used to run a good stream the year around and the wells would flow the year around, and he remembers one well that was so strong it would throw water about forty feet high.  Water does not flow now only in the winter time or when they stop pumping in the beg(sic) wells…  – James P. Reagan, describing an interview with George Haylock of Compton, CA, 1914.

Well, James & George, you’d never know it by how we manage water today.  Your generation oversaw the the depletion of our

Taking stock:  the Centinela Springs before 1900.  Today you'd have to dig down a few hundred (?) feet to find water.

Taking stock: the Centinela Springs in Inglewood before 1900. Today you'd have to dig down a few hundred (?) feet to find water.

local aquifers, and the one after you saw Owens Lake go dry.  Mine has watched our resource-consumptive lifestyles drain rivers even further afield; in our name (if not strictly our need) the salmon fisheries collapsed.  And yet we stand at a crossroads, seeing in the ocean opportunity, and barely draw breath.  Now would be a good time to pause, take stock of our actions, and contemplate what “need” really constitutes for us humans.

For once again, the voices of reason have insisted that we “need” desal.  Enviros who object are resisting technology and refusing to reckon with the “reality” that we need more water.  

High Country News:  Environmentalists must learn to compromise: Desalination plants are necessary to quench the West’s thirst

The author of this piece believes we must face the difficult choices.  I too believe in difficult choices, just not the ones promoted by him. Indeed I don’t think it’s a “difficult choice” to perpetuate our current water-wasting lifestyle through the enablement of desalinated water – no, that’s politics and catering to our sense of entitlement. How about bringing our water consumption to a comparable level as that found in Barcelona, Spain, or Queensland, Australia (+/-40 gals/person/day)? Considering our current consumption is 100+ gals/person/day (as high as 400-600 is some Southern California communities) we would see a significant benefit. I would rather we exhaust simple solutions first before moving up to these more expensive and impactful technologies.

To say we’ll only lose a few fish with desal is dismissive. Even minor increases in salinity will dramatically decrease the hatching of grunion eggs, for example. Have we adequately studied what else might be impacted by subtle changes in the ocean’s chemistry? History shows that we usually act first, regret later.

Contrary to the author’s statement, historical ecology buffs know that coastal Southern California was not a desert. Hundreds of miles of waterways plumped LA’s aquifers every year.  The region’s water tables were once high, but profligate water consumption & urban development, without regard for the ecosystem, altered our landscape – desertified it, if you will. As evidenced above, in one man’s lifetime.  

As a native of Southern California, I challenge all of us to face the reality of our impacts to our ecosystem and make the difficult choice to learn to live within its means.  True, that may be harder than disparaging environmentalists who think it is achievable. But we are talking about the difficult choices here, right?

Have we ever regretted a course of action that preserved our natural resources, our landscapes –  our ocean?  

But regret we have, the consequences of so many of these water resource battles that have been won so that you and I can have a lawn.

Pass the whisky.

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§ 6 Responses to Whisky’s for drinkin’…desal’s for fightin’

  • Joe Linton says:

    LOL on your closing line! Now, what are the environmental impacts of that bottle of whisky?!?

  • Ricky Grubb says:

    I checked our water usage on the last (59 days) bill from LADWP, we used an average of 77 gal per day, for two of us, makes 37.5 gal per day each! Thanks for making me want to track my direct usage against my peers. I am delighted of course to have used even less than your exemplary, water wise citizens in Barcelona and Queensland, but I still can’t justify my direct usage of 40 gallons of fresh water every day! That (40gal per person per day), is probably near the lowest figure acheavable without having to sacrifice any quality of life, (ie. showers, car washes, and a covered spa) or modern convienience excepting grass lawns, though I prefer my Ca. Native wild landscape to a grass lawn.
    Couple facts about the growth of grass crops in America.
    Grass is now the number one crop grown in america (by total cultivated acres).
    Growing grass crops (your lawn) is the most labor intensive of all modern crops, (saturday mowing the lawn?).
    Grass is the most water intensive of crops, (sprinklers every day?).
    Grass lawn crops use more pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers than any other single american crop (except cotton which gets over 50% of all pesticides applied in the us, grass is 2nd).
    This is hard work, and very expensive and un-neccesary. Many Wild Native Ca. Plants were harmed in the making of this fiasco, (developing these subdivisions), and they were perfectly happy growing here without any pumped irrigation ever! We can (theoretically), conserve 100% of our lawn care labor, water, pesticide and fertilizer use (and costs), if only we can live within the midst of (and within the means of) Nature, as God intended.
    Then consider this,
    Much of that (lawn care poison) is mis-used, gets over applied and/or is washed into the streams, rivers and oceans, there fueling massive annual “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico, and increasingly here in the Pacific Ocean just off our coast, right where the LA river mouth in winter dumps a lot of our rainfall.
    Add to this the impacts of feeding us huge, hungry city populations,
    In America, monocrop irrigated mechanized agriculture gets 70% of water pumped for human usage, and irrigation increasingly contaminates land (soil) with salts buildup while using chemical pest control and petrol based fertilizers, and with ever decreasing results. Permaculture and rainfall dependant farming make up 90% of current cultivated acreage worldwide, that and traditional plant breeding (Botany) which has served us so well so far, thus should not be abandoned so eagerly for genetically engineered corporate branded plant crops that don’t taste as good.
    That is just the surface! And I haven’t even got to desalination yet! (De-salination=Distillation, too expensive, better for whisky!) Just don’t get me started Jessica!

  • Shelley Luce says:

    Thanks for a great article! I wish we could change the public perception of LA = desert. Will keep trying. Love the Creek Freak(s).

  • Joe Geever says:

    The High Country News OpEd was so full of mis-statements it never should have been published.
    It’s true that there are many impacts on healthy fisheries (incuding over-fishing) — but that doesn’t excuse killing more fish for the desalination intake. It has to stop.
    And desal is EXTREMELY energy intensive (40% more than pumping water to San Diego from Sacramento). What’s the result: greenhouse gas emissons continue to rise, seal-level rises, our local ground water is contaminated, and we have to use even MORE imported water or desal. Again, energy use goes up and the solution to our supposed water problem is just exacerbated. You’re right, we need to first get our water consumption within our means — it saves water, reduces energy demands statewide, and restores natural processes (rather than killing marine life). The guy who wrote the High Country News OpEd has obviously been drinking too much whiskey and unnecessarily picking a fight over water.

  • I normally avoid blogs but this is the first rational discussion on southern California water usage and abuse that I have seen, regardless that it is friends and colleagues. It is unfortunate that the obvious-use water more efficiently to keep from becoming a desert- and to make use of what we have with 15″ of average rainfall does not come first. As the Pacific Institute said in their excellent Waste Not, Want Not report that we have limited demand in all urban areas since 1980, with the basic in conservation and reclamation, while there is so much more to be saved, starting with lawns and outdoor irrigation. Those that want the silver bullet solution to water supply while ignoring the environmental consequences and benefits to using untapped local water resource solutions are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past while further impacting the ocean ecosystem.

  • […] What do you think?  (and please don’t say desal!) […]

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