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Life in the land of diminishing returns

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
April 25, 2002

 

"Californians invented the concept of life-style. This alone warrants their doom." — Don DeLillo

Last week, while watching Crossfire on CNN, I was surprised to hear Senator John McCain ask Californians to stop stealing Arizona's water. Obviously this was a harbinger of the water wars yet to come. Here in San Diego County we are waging our own little battle with farmers and fishermen doing business in the dry desert of Imperial Valley.

Currently the San Diego County Water Authority is attempting to secure an agreement which would allow them to buy 200,000 acre-feet of water each year from Imperial Valley farmers for $64 million. San Diego, unable to meet the residential needs of it's burgeoning population, needs to replace water it is no longer allowed to take from the Colorado River under the federally brokered Colorado River Compact.

When water allotments were decided decades ago, Southern California was experiencing population associated water shortages. Growing way beyond its means, the desert region needed a dependable water source if it was to continue growing. Able to take more than it fair share California used what Nevada and Arizona didn't. Soon to catch up, 1990 marked the year all three lower basin states, were taking their full allotment of water from the Colorado River.

In 1950, the Arizona's Sun Valley had a population of just over 300,000, with Phoenix claiming a mere 107,000 residents. By 2000, nearly 3 million people were living in the valley, making Phoenix the fastest growing city in the United States, and the seventh largest in the nation. Two years later, Arizona's population continues to grow,as does Nevada's and California's.

Did I mention San Diego is our nation's sixth largest city? Or that with a population of more than 3 million, the population of San Diego County is twice the size of Nevada?

Faced with a limited water supply one would think Californian officials would also begin considering limiting California's population, this however is not the case. It seems nowhere in the water availability conversation is there a voice linking dwindling water resources to our ever increasing population. And no, I'm not talking babies; I'm talking population associated with immigration, both interstate and international. If there is not enough water to warrant increases, why then do elected officials allow the development industry to continue building sprawling subdivisions. It's obviously not for the children born in the region within the last twenty years.

Pardon the pun, but an annual addition of 200,000 acre feet of water the San Diego County Water Authority is seeking, is a mere drop in the bucket,which does little to address the long term sustainability of the San Diego region. Nor does the ongoing "Smart growth" debate. Smart growth is an oxymoron as long as the population connection is ignored in favor of short term economic considerations. Transferring water rights only transfers the impact of the overall water shortage. Again, this can hardly be considered smart growth.

Sooner or later something has to give. As things stand now the California lifestyle demands the over consumption of water resources. One need only to look at the acculturated process of removing native vegetation, which requires no more water than nature provides, and replacing it with thirsty landscaping better suited for wetter climates and abundant water. Lawns are just one example of how lifestyle is threatening life in Southern California.

Something we must ask ourselves as we plan for the future is whether or not Southern California can afford manicured lawns and tropical landscaping. We also need to ask how many people are too many when attempting to provide resources to a semi arid region with an annual rainfall unable to support even a third of it's current population.

Another ominous result of the pending water transfer is the signal that agricultural viability, already hard pressed in the land of sprawl and crawl, will continue to erode due to the encroachment of residential development interests. If this trend continues, not only will we have water issues to contend with, we will also find ourselves in the very unfavorable position of depending entirely on imported food resources, as well.

Maybe it's just me, but the lettuce for lawns water transfer, is not about water sustainability, anymore than it is about environmental preservation. What the water transfer is really about is allowing those who profit from the development and building industry, to continue to due so.

Did I mention that the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) is actively planning to accommodate another million people in the next twenty years?

 
 
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