The California Drought: Who Gets Water and Who's Hung Out to Dry?
The historic drought in California has dredged up old feuds over who can lay claim to water in a thirsty state. As the powerful lobby for the agricultural industry—which currently consumes 80 percent of California's water supply—cries for more water to be pumped to their farms in the arid regions of the Central Valley, just who would be left high and dry?
California's record-breaking drought brought many things long submerged back to light when the water line dropped. Long abandoned cars were discovered in shallow rivers, ghost towns emerged at the bottoms of lake beds, and glints of gold in the near-dry streams sent amateur prospectors hotfooting it back into the hills.
What also re-surfaced were the old and ugly battles over who can claim rights to what has historically been California's most precious resource: water.
On Jan. 17, Gov. Brown (D-CA) declared a drought emergency, announcing the lowest total rainfall in the state's 163-year history and asking residents to voluntarily reduce their water use.
Buried in the declaration was a clause that suspended water quality protections, allowing the California Department of Water Resources and the state's Water Boards to let saltier, warmer water flow through the rivers and estuaries, putting endangered fish species like the delta smelt at risk.
At the heart of California's water politics is the Sacramento-San Joaquin Rivers Delta, which, together with the San Francisco Bay into which it flows, is the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas. The Delta supplies water to farmland that produces almost half the nation's fruits and vegetables. It is also home to hundreds of species of plants and animals, some found nowhere else on Earth.
Gov. Brown has been championing a massive tunneling proposal that would divert water directly from the Sacramento River, bypassing the Delta and sending it south, primarily to Kern County and the Westlands Water Districts, two water agencies that currently receive the majority of the freshwater exported from the Delta.
The shortfall of fresh water flowing through the Delta would further degrade an already taxed ecosystem, jeopardizing both native species and the local economy. Brown, who was also governor during the 1977 drought, proposed a similar water funneling plan at that time. That project, dubbed the Peripheral Canal, was rejected by voters in a 1982 ballot measure, but became the focus of a north-south battle over water.
The latest drought has reignited old water rights tensions as politicians and corporate interests seize upon the scarcity of water as a political tool. Standing in a parched field in California's Central Valley in January, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) referred to the catastrophe as a “man-made drought” and called for more freshwater to be pumped from the Delta to corporate agriculture.
“How you can favor fish over people is something people in my part of the world would never understand,” Boehner said.
Had he looked around, he would have seen the faces of many other farmers, fishermen, Native Americans and consumers whose lives would be disrupted by a mega-water grab.
Visit EcoWatch’s WATER page for more related news on this topic.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt met with Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris before deciding to reverse an earlier EPA decision to ban the company's toxic and widely used pesticide, chlorpyrifos.
According to records obtained by the Associated Press, the EPA boss met with Liveris for about 30 minutes at a Houston hotel on March 9. Later that month, Pruitt announced that he would no longer pursue a ban on chlorpyrifos from being used on food, ignoring his agency's own review that even small amounts of the pesticide could impact fetus and infant brain development.
Native communities and environmental justice advocates in Louisiana opened a new resistance camp Saturday to oppose the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline project. Called L'eau Est La Vie, or Water is Life, the camp will consist of floating indigenous art structures on rafts and constant prayer ceremonies during its first two weeks.
Continuing its march toward elimination of key Clean Water Act protections, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday issued a formal notice of withdrawal of the Obama administration's rule defining which waters can be protected against pollution and destruction under federal law.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not doing enough to prevent weed resistance to the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) says a new report from the EPA's Inspector General's Office, which draws in part on a report from the agbiotech company, Pioneer: Weed Management in the Era of Glyphosate Resistance.
When it comes to the latest wind turbine technologies, size matters. A group of six institutions and universities is designing an offshore wind turbine that will stand 500 meters in height. That's taller than the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building.
The research team, led by researchers at the University of Virginia, believes that its wind turbine concept will produce 50 megawatts of peak power, or about 10 times more powerful than conventional wind turbines.
Natural gas is often considered the cleanest fossil fuel, but could it actually be dirtier than coal?
Watch as New York Times reporter Mark Bittman, in the above Year's of Living Dangerously video, investigates how much methane is leaking at fracking wells. Find out how the natural gas industry's claims compare to what scientists are reporting.
See what happens when Gaby Petron, an atmospheric scientist with NOAA, converts her van into a mobile methane detector and sets out across northeastern Colorado for two years, taking thousands of readings to uncover the truth.
Adrian Grenier: 'We Must Usher in a New Era of Compassion Through Forward Thinking Environmental Programs'
Adrian Grenier was named UN Goodwill Ambassador earlier this month. The Hollywood actor, best known for his iconic role of A-list movie star Vincent Chase in the HBO smash hit and film Entourage, will advocate for drastically reducing single-use plastic and protection of marine species, and encourage his followers to make conscious consumer choices to reduce their environmental footprint, according to the UN Environment announcement.
"Together we must usher in a new era of compassion and carefulness through forward thinking environmental programs to drive measurable change," Grenier said. "I am personally committed to creating ways in which the global community can come together to help solve our most critical climate crises through routine, collective action.
"The more we connect to nature in our daily lives, the more dedicated we will become to our individual commitments. Together, I believe we can go further, faster in our race to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030."
Watch the video above to learn more.