San Diego Soliloquies

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Whisky's for drinkin' ...

Every westerner knows the end of that Mark Twain quote "Water's for fightin' over". San Diego, like most of the cities in the western United States, is a desert. Meaning that our rainfall averages a little over 9 inches a year (depending who you ask. I have rain fall records covering most of the planet for the past 30 years if you care). We are a Mediterranean climate meaning that our rainfall shuts off in about May or June, and doesn't start up until just before the Winter Solstice. The first time I went back east and encountered running water in quatities I couldn't jump over from a running start was a bit of a shock.

There is no way that San Diego can live off its own rainfall, therefore the history of San Diego, until the 1930s, was a history of scrambling for water. I regularly visit the site of the first dam in San Diego (more on that in a later post), and much of that scrambling ran the gamut from the practical to the absurd. Meanwhile, one mountain range over, they were sprinkling water on the desert (actually they screwed up, and for two years flooded the valley with Colorado River water ). The Imperial Valley is a major agricultural center producing a large variety of crops, some of which are particularly stupid to grow in that area. Take for example alfalfa which requires around 8.5 acre feet of water ( one acre foot is one acre covered in a foot of water. Usually this will supply a family of four for a year). Mulched wheat runs about 3.5 acre feet.

Western cities have noticed this, and also noticed that farmers are paying around $16 an acre foot of water. The wholesale water rates for "drinkable" water in San Diego is $521. So San Diego put together a plan to buy water from IV farmers. Good? Nope.

The IV Irrigation district wants to be held not liable for any damage to the Salton Sea (you remember, the lake they created). Seems that with every other body of water polluted (Google the New River for this. It's a disgusting sewer that runs from Mexico into the US. We created it. We contribute over 60% of the pollution in it), birds use the Salton Sea to rest. The IV Irrigation district is worried that it might be sued. You just knew this was going to be blamed on liberals and environmentalists didn't you?

So that's where it stands. San Diego wants to pay farmers (handsomely) for their water, which by the way will result in the Salton Sea being cleaner. (Turns out that the major source of pollution for it and the New River is agricultural runoff). But the IV Irrigation district doesn't want to give up its power base, so a market solution for a social problem gets shut down. And what is the Bush administration doing? Playing hardball. It won't make any guarantees about the Salton Sea (though it is a pet project of Republicans in the California delegation of the House of Representatives) Gail Norton, EPA chief, announced that Imperial Valley water was being cut 11%. That's gonna hurt.

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San Diego Soliloquies