Thursday, April 17, 2014

Water and People - Conflict?

Last week I drove through central and southern California, both in a rental car and on my bicycle.  This included a car tour of the San Joaquin valley, especially the parts used for agriculture.  I saw vast fields of crops growing, with citrus, nuts, vegetables, and plants of all sorts.  Most were irrigated using a drip system where the water a plant receives comes to it through a plastic pipe, which prevents annoying things like evaporation and soil seepage from stealing from the water supply.

I recently read the book Cadillac Desert, which includes a large section concerning the acquisition of several watersheds for the use of the residents of the Los Angeles valley.  The politicos of LA were able to co-opt the waters of places like Owens Valley, among others, forcing the residents of these relatively less inhabited areas to abandon their claims for lack of the water needed to make a living, in order to serve the greater good of the "Many" in the valley lower down the watershed.  The Colorado River, the Salton Sea, and the Ogalla Aquifer are all part of the story here.

Today the water shortage makes the news, and most certainly exists in a sort of abstract sense.  Driving around I didn't see it.  Green lawns, golf courses, trees and plants outside, and no lack of proper amenities in homes and businesses dependent on water.  To be sure the weather is hot and dry, and bicycling, I suffered terribly for the lack of water, at points.  Sweating, breathing dry air that we do not have at any time of the year here in Snohomish, and heat that drew my "precious bodily fluids" out of my body and onto the road beneath me in the form of sweat and spit, I felt myself dehydrating.

So, my point is that we, as a culture, have agreed to sustain a population of people in a place where, without the extreme measures we take to provide water, would not support life as we know it.  Is this a good thing?  OK, the weather is great with respect to the things we all like, such as temperature, humidity, seasonality, and all that, but at what cost to the environment, and to the rest of us?   If we divert water to the millions of people in southern CA that would have otherwise severed other purposes, what price will we pay in the long term?  Can the calculus of utilitarianism be applied here?  The best and highest good for the greatest number?  I'm not so sure.

Is this a Big Question?  Or is this a Question that just happened to hit me in the face?  You decide.