Bob's Links and Rants

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Sunday, December 08, 2002

The water showdown begins, and it doesn't look like tax cuts are going to solve this problem. According to this article California's share of Colorado river water is going to be cut back significantly at the end of the year:

Assistant Interior Secretary Bennett Raley told the Imperial Irrigation District Thursday that his office is determined to reduce the state's overuse of Colorado River water quickly so other Western states can get their full entitlement. "I'm not here to tell you what to do," he said. "But doing nothing is not an option. The (Interior) secretary is going to enforce the law of the river."

Southern California must quickly decide how to allocate the water between the farmers of the Imperial valley and the industries and residents in the LA/San Diego area. I remember driving across the desert in California years ago where the highway parallels the aqueduct which carries water from the Colorado River to LA. There must be huge losses to evaporation in that high-temperature, low-humidity environment. I'm not familiar with the whole history there, but the politics behind such a massive subsidization of one area over another must have been, and continue to be, incredible. The sheer arrogance required to take on such a massive engineering project to benefit one location at the expense of another is staggering. I am reminded of the story of the Chicago River, which back around 1890 used to flow through Chicago and into Lake Michigan. Unfortunately, the river served as the main sewer for Chicago, which fouled up the Lake Michigan water that Chicagoans were drinking and trying to swim in. Rather than treat the sewage properly or come up with a reasonably environmentally sound plan, Chicago decided to reverse the flow of the river! With a lot of digging they were able to connect the Chicago River to the Des Plaines river a few miles inland. The Des Plaines flows to the Illinois river, and eventually to the Mississippi. So rather than have their sewage wash up on their own beaches, it now flowed the other way, down to Peoria (which had far fewer representatives in the Illinois legislature than did Chicago). To some extent I find large engineering projects to be fascinating, but many, maybe most, have been done strictly to benefit some powerful group of people at the expense of some other, less powerful group, not to mention the environment. Dams flood some areas to benefit others; freeways destroy cities to benefit suburbs; and aqueducts take water from where it was supposed to be to where those in power want it.

People have poured lots of money into developing both the cities of southern California and the agriculture of the Imperial valley. They're not likely to give up what they've built without a fight. This is going to be real ugly, and those of us in states that have adequate water have to be ready for states that don't trying to take it from us.

As usual, when it comes to water issues, Politics in the Zeroes is the place to go for more information.