Robin Meadows, MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK
Calfifornia Fish & Wildlife Instream Flow Program
“We always act surprised when drought shows up, with ad hoc actions to try to protect species and ecosystems,” Mount says. “One place to start is to give the environment a water budget and someone to manage it, especially during drought—we should plan for it, rather than react to it.”
As a New York Times columnist once quipped, “California’s water system might have been invented by a Soviet bureaucrat on an LSD trip.” The system was engineered in the 1900s to capture winter rain and spring snowmelt in vast reservoirs and then send this water to cities and farms via thousands of miles of canals, pipelines and tunnels.
While this system suits many people, it doesn’t suit fish, frogs and other river life. Many California waterways are regulated by reservoirs that release water for supply, flood control, and hydropower, resulting in river flows that are far from natural. Now there’s a movement to reinstate the seasonal flows that native species depend on.
“The idea of mimicking a natural flow regime is not rocket science and it’s not new,” says Sarah Yarnell, a river ecosystems expert at UC Davis. Like many innovations, it’s just taken a while to start percolating into the mainstream.