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Donald Drumpf says “There is no drought.”


No kidding.  He really said it, right here in Fresno.  I was so shocked I was speechless for a week.

Drumpf claims that the State of California is sending water out to sea to save “a three inch fish” (the critically endangered smelt)… well, yes, we are not sucking the Sacramento River dry because there is this problem with the environment.  It seems that we cannot both irrigate large tracts of salty land in the Central Valley of California and still have a flow of water in the Sacramento River sufficient to sustain river life.

A hundred and fifty years ago there was a huge run of salmon down the Sacramento River every year.  Then farmers started diverting the river water to irrigate their farms in the Central Valley.   After years of greater and greater diversions, the river has nearly dried up and there are no more salmon runs.  The desert land that was irrigated has become salty due to over-irrigation and in many places won’t support productive crops any more (this is true mainly of the west side of the Central Valley, where hundreds of thousands of acres has become too salty and has had to be taken out of production.)

Fortunately, the East Side has been sustainably irrigated and is still highly productive.  Water drawn from the underground aquifers is too high in mineral content to be used exclusively for irrigation, but surface water from the rivers is “soft”, that is, low in minerals and is effective for irrigation.  Rain water is very low in minerals and is preferable for agriculture, but the average rainfall in the Central Valley is about ten inches a year, too little to support year-round crop growth.  Snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains melts into the rivers that supply the Central Valley with relatively soft water: the Sacramento River, the San Joaquin River, the American River, and so on.  It is the water in these rivers that Californians fight over.

Environmental laws require that at least half of the water that normally flowed out to sea at the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta continue to flow to preserve the habitat of the smelt, but that still isn’t enough to rescue them.  Taking any more of the water, as Drumpf demands, would reduce water quality as well as destroying the habitat.  Dealing with the drought requires more dams, more sensible use of the irrigation water available, and more careful human use of water.

Large quantities of water are diverted from Mono Lake in the Sierras to flow down aqueducts into Los Angeles.  Water that used to flow in the Los Angeles River is diverted far upstream, so that the river is dry long before it reaches the city.  There is indeed an ongoing drought; this past winter has seen adequate rainfall but not enough to make up for four years of record drought.  Unless El Nino persists for at least another year, the drought will not be broken.

Here’s a Grist article on the real story of the smelt, a needed corrective for Drumpf’s lies.  Another post from Wired explains that there are complex water laws unrelated to the smelt that restrict water delivery because the delta needs the pressure of fresh water coming down the river to prevent salt intrusion.  Taking too much water will destroy the ecology of the the delta.

It’s too late to save the Delta Smelt.  Let’s hope it’s not too late for the human race.

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