Today Liz, Nathaniel, Asher and I interviewed Carolee Krieger of California Water Impact Network (C-Win, http://c-win.org/), an inspirational woman who is doing the all important work of protecting fresh water in California. She is having a letter published in the New York Times tomorrow which discusses some of the issues we spoke with her about today. We’ll publish a link when that letter comes on line.
(Here’s that link http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/24/opinion/california-water-rights.html?_r=0 Check out the OpEd it references too.)
Water is the educational theme of this journey we are on. We have set up interviews in various locations with a cast of people, whether they be activists, government ministers, farmers or really anyone that has a strong connection with and knowledge of water issues in their particular location.
Carolee was so generous to welcome us to her home this morning. From the first question you could tell that this is a woman who is passionate about her work and excited to talk about the myriad of issues facing rivers and streams in California. Every question sparked an insightful discussion that may have gone over the boys heads occasionally, but that none the less provided all of us with new perspectives and understandings.
Natty jumped right in with a question that we had all thought that we knew the answer to, but Carolee sure surprised us! Natty asked what Carolee though about golf courses in light of the amount of water it takes to keep the grass green. Carolee wasted no time getting to the heart of the matter, letting us know that 80% of all water used by humans in California is used by agriculture! In turn, agriculture only contributes 2% to California’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The GDP is all the money that is made doing business in California, which includes some pretty well known businesses, like the technology sector up in Silicon Valley and the movie industry in Hollywood. Only 13% of the water is used by whats called Urban Users. Urban Users includes all homes, golf courses, car washes and swimming pools. While Carolee let us know that she is not an advocate of lawns and swimming pools, or golf courses for that matter, the real focus has to be on agriculture. As a sector of the economy it uses so much water and a lot of it in a wasteful manner.
A big culprit in water waste by large farms is flood irrigation. That is where water is released over fields by opening a large channel. The water just flows down the rows. Much of the water is lost to evaporation or runoff which contains the toxic pesticides and herbicides and the harmful fertilizers used on most crops. Here is a quick video which shows an example of flood irrigation, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7A3XTLMZ9M
Another aspect of water issues that Carolee told us about is regarding the allocation of water. Suffice it to say that in California there is a complicated system of issuing water rights that goes back to 1849, when it first became a state. C-WIN wanted to take a close look at this program so they asked the State, how much water is in the Delta System, which provides most of the fresh water to California (made up by the Sacramento, San Joaquin and the Trinity rivers and their tributaries), how much water is there to be divvied up? C-WIN could not get an answer out of the State. Then C-WIN asked how many gallons of water have been given away as water rights. This too could not be answered! How could a system be managed efficiently if the amount of water in the system is not known and the amount of water promised to different farms, businesses and users is not known! C-WIN spent three years answering those questions on their own. There are 29 Million acre feet of water in the Delta System each year and the State has issued 154 million acre feet of water in permits. That is 5.5 times more water promised than is even in the system! No matter how much money, dams or projects are thrown at the problem of water, nothing will help this system if there is just not enough water for the promises made.
C-WIN is currently running a campaign to raise $1,000,000 to fund a study to see how much water is needed in rivers and streams to support the fish and their ecosystems as well. When managing water in California, you have to think of the wildlife as well. They deserve some of the water too!
It’s amazing to think that here we are in 2015 and we don’t even know how much water is in the rivers, how much water the fish need, and how much water people need. Thanks to the work of C-WIN and groups like them, we are getting these fundamental questions answered. This information will help us to understand the problem of water allocation and be better stewards of this resource.
Asher asked the next question. How does Carolee feel about the amount of water wasted by toilets? We were told that low flow toilets have been mandated in Los Angels County for at least 10 years. Everything that we can do in our lives to conserve water is important, but the big problem in California is with agriculture. If flood irrigation were cut back by 10%, that would equal all the water used in all the homes in California!
We all thought it would be a good idea for some crops to be labeled as “WATER WISE”. If you saw that sticker in your grocery, you would know that product was made using water in a way that was as efficient as possible. It could be just like buying organic or fair trade products. Otherwise how would you know if the farmers use proper practices or not?
Carolee then told us that almonds use 10% of all water in California. It takes 1.1 gallons of water to make 1 almond! Even in the height of this drought, more almond trees are being planted because they are so profitable. Keep that in mind when shopping.
So here are some of the take aways from our talk with Carolee:
- While what we do at home matters, if 80% of the water used in California is used by agriculture, that is where the focus should be in preserving water.
- Farming techniques that preserve water should be promoted.
- It takes 1.1 gallons of water to make an almond!
- It is only through the work of dedicated organizations like C-WIN that we will know how much water is in a system, how much water is promised through water rights, and how much water is needed to support healthy ecosystems.
While that was the end of our discussion with Carolee, it was not the end of our time together. We were then treated to a tour of Carolee’s wonderful home, including her turtles, bird aviaries, and natural landscaping. What a treat!