We simply cannot continue destroying California’s river systems

By Richard Cole, of Lewiston

Re “Why State Water Contractors sued California over restrictions on water deliveries”; Commentary, April 30, 2020

The State Water Contractors’ commentary on California water policy discusses compacts, cooperation and agreements. What it does not talk about is Northern California’s disappearing water supply and the fatal damage it is doing to our ecosystem.

Two generations ago, salmon were so abundant on the Trinity River that residents say you could almost literally walk across their backs to the opposite bank during the spawning seasons. It is now very possible, even likely, that salmon will completely disappear from the Trinity and Klamath rivers over the next two decades.

For years Trinity County and environmental groups have been fighting agribusiness in federal court to stop them from diverting even more water from the Trinity River. As of now, only about one quarter of the river’s flow goes down the natural river course. The rest is diverted by reservoirs and pipes into the Sacramento River, where most of it is divided up by agricultural water districts.

This policy is literally killing the Trinity River, as well as the lower Klamath River in neighboring Humboldt County.

At the same time, we are suffering the effects of advancing climate change. The amount of snow we receive in Trinity County has decreased 40% since the 1970s. That snow forms the largest part of our river’s water supply. And the monsoon rain season in the winter that also helped keep the river flowing has all but disappeared with it. We now go from one drought to the next with “normal” precipitation every few years – if we are lucky.

As many have pointed out, this in no small part accounts for the historically damaging wildfires we are increasingly suffering here. And this is yet another dry year.

So in the end, taking our water supply is all for naught. It will largely disappear because of climate change. And then where will agribusiness go? The only long-term answer to California’s water problem is likely desalination. The costs are coming down as the technology improves, and we almost certainly will have no choice but to start using it soon. Yes there are environmental issues that need to be discussed and solved. But they are far fewer than the environmental issues caused by drying up the state’s water supply.

Why doesn’t agribusiness push to desalinate? Simply because it costs more than getting water for free from Northern California rivers. A short-sighted policy by corporations with dollars signs in their eyes and no concern about the damage they leave behind.

The problem isn’t state water agreements and compacts. The problem is we simply cannot continue destroying California’s river systems for agribusiness to make more profit.

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