Water, water everywhere; nor a drop to drink! The lament of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner comes to mind contemplating America’s southwestern drought, presently peaking in California. Such contemplation inescapably points as well to the odd nature of our species.
Consider: Most earthly life amounts more or less, to little bags of water even when they are fish or cacti living amidst water or in its general absence. Drain it out of us; we die. And in our various fashions we continually leak the stuff, creating a need for continual replacement. Such is earthly life.
Earth is therefore fortunately for us, a watery planet. Water covers most of the surface, soaks the land and is incorporated into all its life, as we note. Earth is therefore, all wet. One cannot readily escape the wet; it falls upon one’s head a rain or snow and lies in many places underfoot. Still, dying of thirst is not as unusual as one might expect amongst all this wet and it is singularly unpleasant too. Strange.
Even more strange it seems to us, is the way our species tries to escape water while maintaining its availability. With our constant and desperate need for water, one might expect most of us to live at the planet’s poles where the substance lies around all year, conveniently available. But no, not us; we much prefer to live in howling deserts like southern California where essentially, there isn’t any water but what runs off the Sierra Nevada or full of salt, laps against the beach. How can so contrary a species hope to exist over the long run? We are ridiculous; there must be some fundamental design flaw.
It gets worse: Those earlier in California clearly saw this coming. They built huge, costly aqueducts over long distances to bring the coyly inconvenient water to the heedless people. At the ribbon-cutting for the Owens Valley aqueduct to Los Angeles, the less than loquacious engineer whose project it was waved to open the pipes and as the water gushed, said to the gathered people: “There it is; take it!” Not much of speech, but a hell of an accomplishment. William Mulholland was an engineer, not a politician. They named a road for him, one that ran around the tops of the hills that defined the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. It became a famous lover’s lane at night …
Following that, bigger and bigger water projects came to California to move water to its desert farmland and burgeoning, mild climate cities. Others took up Mulholland’s vision, seeing chronic drought as a historically normal event, adding huge water storage facilities to provide for dry years. The engineering was a marvel of human accomplishment. The resulting San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego are marvels as well and the development of the state’s inland valleys into farms providing nearly half of America’s production of a number of fruits and vegetables was an agricultural miracle.
People didn’t like where the water is, so they moved it to suit them. Borrowing the kids’ overworked word: “Awesome!” and incorporating a bit of hubris, too. What could overcome such a species? Turns out, we can. Looking for political symbols to ride to power, (our opinion) some folk noted a few anxious types worried about a little fish that, deprived of the Sacramento Delta water flows that had supported it before the dams and diversion, could sustain an “environmental” political push. They organized to Save the Delta Smelt!
The tiny fish was the nemesis of the dams, aqueducts and storage facilities; the water stored for future droughts was flushed every spring out to sea for the happy reproduction of tiny fish. Yes, this was a project of the Democrats. So now with the future drought no longer in the future, the state’s Governor (a Democrat) has decreed drastic water use reduction, Beverly Hills being demanded to cut usage by 36%. Given the number of mansions seemingly set in the middle of lawns resembling golf courses, that’s understandable. Unfortunately, a lot of less well known parts of the city are full of more normal dwellings that now face a dessicated doom for any greenery around them. And given the political donations from mansion owners, we suspect we can predict which greenswards will vanish.
Some have recommended that the State learn to drink its bordering Pacific Ocean; the unfortunate amount of energy presently necessary for that remains a problem for politicians opposed to the use of any affordable form of energy.
There seems in all this if nothing else, ongoing evidence of the assignment of Homo Sapiens to the role of Cosmic Clown, forever on the brink of disaster and about to trip over oversized clown shoes. Is any other earthly species as ludicrous? Not even monkeys. Yet somehow, we have gone forth and we are still multiplying, though that seems less fashionable now.
Mark our words: If California adapts to its desert nature successfully; it will be visited by the second Biblical flood; one that will make the 1938 L.A. flood of record seem a dry spell. Stay tuned …