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T is for Thirst and Terrorism on Tap

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
July 31, 2002


"The cowboy sentiment "might is right" meant that the economically powerful could invest in capital-intensive means to appropriate water regardless of the needs of others and the limits of water systems." — Vandana Shiva

The American west has always been at war over water. Whether humans were fighting amongst themselves over access, or the environment for supply, trying to sustain modern habitats in an arid region is a battle we are destined to lose. One need only to look honestly at the fact the water resources are finite, and human arrogance is not, to realize epic thirst is coming to a neighborhood near you.

Qualifying for the ultimate in irony, it is rather absurd that on a planet of mostly water, we are running out of that which is drinkable. Perhaps for those individuals who have replaced H20 with Pepsi or Coke the idea of crippling water shortages doesn't seem like a big deal, the rest of us however are a bit concerned, and growing more so everyday. Where the recent energy crisis was more corporate slight of hand, the looming water crisis is all about overpopulation and environmental disconnect.

Here in San Diego County we are currently experiencing a minor water war over the proposed Imperial Valley water transfers. Basically this equates with trading lettuce for lawns. If my cynicism seems cavalier, let me assure readers it is merely my way of stating the obvious. Agriculture, environmental, urban, suburban, and recreational interests are all claiming their needs are greater than the others. Sadly, none of which are sustainable due to a collective unwillingness to say "enough."

In the near future, if population considerations are not factored into water allotment agreements, an individual's right to this life sustaining basic. A reality check is also needed in regards to attempting to grow water intensive crops in parched desert regions. California's central valley is quickly approaching the limits of irrigating that desert region, water imported from the Colorado River has brought with it so much salinity, soil quality will soon be unable to sustain current crop yields.

Los Angeles is the American poster child for heavy-handed water politics. Before the end of the nineteenth century, Los Angeles had already exhausted its water supplies and was secretly securing water rights away from the residents of nearby Owens Valley. In 1907, bonds were issued for a 238 mile aqueduct which, when completed, would transfer water from farms to the city. Suffice it to say the Owens Valley dried up while Los Angeles boomed.

Since its completion the aqueduct has been bombed fourteen times. And the Los Angeles region has been forced to looker farther and farther a field to secure potable water. As the Southland population will undoubtedly continue to grow they will no longer have the luxury of tapping surplus water from the Colorado River, because Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico are now claiming their fair share. If Californians want more they are going to have a major fight on their hands.

Speaking of major fights, one thing the wall-to-wall coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fails to mention is the fact the war began as a war over access to water. Much like the Colorado River, with several states claiming water rights, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and the West Bank use the Jordan River as a primary water source. Israel, with only 3 percent of its territory within the Jordan basin, meets 60 percent of its water needs with water from the Jordan River. Israel's extensive industrial agriculture in the Negrev Desert also requires the ground water sitting beneath the West Bank.

Once again the conflict began with a "water project" when the National Water Carrier Project of 1948 led to a dispute with Syria, which continues today. The 1967 war, resulting in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Golan Heights, was really about "accessing" freshwater resources from the Golan Heights, the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, and the West Bank.

Between 1967 and 1982, waters of the west Bank were controlled by the Israeli military. Controlled now by Israel's water company, Mekorot, and integrated into Israel's overall water network, Palestinian water accounts for the 25 to 40 percent Israel does not pipe from the Jordan River.

To come closer to understanding why a Palestinian would strap a bomb to himself consider this fact; Israel consumes 82 percent of the West Bank's water, with the remaining 18 percent going to the Palestinian people and that the Israeli government controls and restricts Palestinian water use.

If this is not California's future I don't know what is.

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