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State of Water

Eel River by Ferndale, Photo by Amber Shelton

Eel River

Here on the North Coast, our six rivers are running dry. The Bureau of Reclamation’s recent releases from Lewiston Dam, aimed at preventing another massive Klamath fish kill  shows how scientifically-based citizen advocacy can be successful. However, much more action is needed to implement a lasting solution to the mismanagement of water supplies, especially during drought conditions.

Life-sustaining fresh water is categorized as either surface water or groundwater. While the molecules themselves don’t hold neatly to this distinction, it does call our attention to a few facts. First, groundwater accounts for much of the world’s supply of fresh water (over 90%, not including glaciers and ice sheets). Ecosystem services provided by groundwater include water purification, climate resilience, erosion regulation, flood control and water supply reliability. In most states, groundwater is regulated, but California’s groundwater has gone completely unregulated. Unsustainable groundwater pumping practices have led to serious consequences for everyone. More energy is required to find and extract water by its primary consumers. Downstream there is less, and in some cases, no surface water and higher concentrations of pollutants. Meanwhile, the ground itself is subsiding as the aquifers compress, degrading infrastructure on a massive scale.

For those of us who are involved in agriculture, there are opportunities directly correlated to the scale of our operations. The Northern California Farmer’s Guide – Best Management Practices is a great resource for local growers small or large, regardless of their crops. The Best Management Practices include water catchment in the rainy season, integrated pest management, proper use of amendments and disposal of potting soils, and responsible surface water diversions and ground water pumping. For those whose agricultural dependence is secondary, we can develop relationships with our farmers through Community Supported Agriculture and Farmers Markets. We are incredibly lucky to have a surplus of these opportunities in our region. Yet the limits on our ability to affect a more substantial change can be frustrating.

This might lead us towards denial or other forms of avoidance but these do little to address the problem. Nothing short of a systemic change seems to be required. Often, the finger is pointed at an individual to divert the attention from the machine. Opting-out of taking excessive showers, using appropriate landscaping (native and drought resistant species) or supporting responsible farming will help, but it is a drop in the sea of our current water systems crisis. Just what can be done about at this level?

There is much that we all can do to be a force for positive change in the future of our world. It is important to remember that systems are perpetuated by people and we do have the ability to change them. It is our task to remember that our opponents are human beings with legitimate interests. By striving for civil discourse, it is easier to see our shared interests in sustainable water and resource use. Whether we are motivated more by economic or environmental factors, we all have an interest in figuring out how to live on this planet in such a way that doesn’t jeopardize its future. As stated in the Best Management Practices: “most people want to do the right thing.” Whether or not that will be done, in the end, seems to come down to individual empowerment and identification with the whole leading to action that reinforces these sentiments.

This article was written by Devin Paine


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