Will Parrish, ANDERSON VALLEY ADVERTISER
California is the most hydrologically altered landmass on the planet, a distinction it first attained in the early-mid-20th century. The Hoover Dam (on the Colorado River), which began operation in 1936, was the largest dam in the world at the time of its completion. With regard to the world’s biggest concrete river plugs, Shasta Dam (upper Sacramento River) rated second only behind Hoover when finished in 1945.
The US federal government and California state governments capture more than 60 percent of the water run-off within the state’s 1,585 square miles, exporting roughly 80 percent to the state’s $44 billion dollar agribusiness sector. Many of these monocrop plantations — unrelenting swaths of sameness – improbably span the desert and semi-desert landscapes of the San Joaquin, Coachella, and Imperial Valleys. Were it a country, the Golden State would be the sixth leading agricultural exporter in the world.
Now, though, California is in the throes of its worst drought since first developing its gargantuan modern plumbing system. In fact, according to research UC Berkeley paleoclimatologist B. Lynn Ingram conducted using the climactic data stored by old-growth tree rings, this is probably the most parched the state has been since the year 1580.
From the perspective of California’s natural ecosystems, the consequences of diverting so much water into “factories in the fields” (to borrow Carey McWilliams’ phrase), not to mention suburbs and desert megalopolises (read: Los Angeles and San Diego), have been catastrophic. With less water to go around, the state’s rivers, creeks, streams, birds, protozoa, insects, wetlands, riparian woodlands, cyclops, daphnia, fresh-water shrimp, salmon, trout, indigenous people, rafters, and others detrimentally impacted by the state’s network of constipated rivers are now in even more desperate need of relief.
What they are getting is exactly the opposite. If California political and business leaders have their way, the state will soon embark on the largest dam- and canal-building binge since the State Water Project of the 1960s and ’70s.