Friday, January 20, 2017

Snapshots at Sunset (Part II): San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge

The Great Central Valley has been experiencing much-needed rainstorms recently, but a break in the weather a few days ago provided the perfect opportunity to explore another local protected area, the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge.

It was good to see the river full and waterfowl enjoying the adjacent flooded areas.  But California's water woes are far from over.  So many people seem to be fairly short sighted: it's raining today, in fact it also rained yesterday and is supposed to rain tomorrow, therefore we have abundant water again!  Not quite so.  Water conservation and a massive shift toward wiser water use are still in order, for everyone from farmers and businesses to homeowners and to those insulated in the city. 

If you're interested, check out this article about factors influencing California's water crisis, why the rain won't really help that much, and why almond orchards are causing the land to sink.

There is a lot of finger-pointing and blame-laying going on in the "who uses more water" debate.  Farmers point to urban areas, with their lush lawns and luxurious swimming pools.  City homeowners place blame squarely on the shoulders of farmers, what with all those dairy cows and almond orchards and wine grapes and all. 

Us environmentalist-types tend to agree that both sides are to blame, pat ourselves on the back for turning off the water when we brush our teeth, and wish the rivers could just flow freely from the mountains to the sea... though I do appreciate the electricity I have in my home, a direct result of hydroelectric power generated by dams upriver.  You begin to see how complex water issues in California are.

The truth is, all 38.8 million of us Californians are partially responsible.  The data is out there: Southern California residential areas use an exorbitant amount of water per capita; even in my area in the Central Valley I see green lawns and swimming pools and other questionable water practices that make me squirm a little.  But conversely, farmers are drawing water from deeper and deeper below ground as aquifer levels drop to irrigate luxury crops - I'm looking at you, almonds and wine grapes!! - that are largely exported. 

A moment of transparency: I read these articles, look over the statistics, listen to knowledgeable speakers in the field talk about California's water related issues... and feel very, very small and inadequate.  I hear a scoffing voice in my head tell me that in the grand scheme of things, I'm not really doing that much to conserve water here in my little  household, in comparison to how much water is being used to irrigate that new almond orchard they just planted down the street.  And while that's partially true, I am doing something, and if every single Californian, farmer and homeowner alike, did a little something to conserve water, it would turn into something much larger.  But as I said before, it will take a shift in thinking, a different way of viewing our water resources, and a change in habits.

But by all means, you can still enjoy the rain we're getting!

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