Tuesday, March 31

Like Tears and Rain

So extensive and vast is the groundwater contamination that there is little hope for “cleaning” up the Central Valley’s aquifers, says Thomas Harter, an author of the UC Davis report. “There is nothing we can do that will solve this issue for them on the source side anytime soon. This is the water quality they will have for decades to come,” says Harter. “Even if we got rid of all the contamination sources tomorrow, it’s going to be decades before this mess is cleaned up. To think we’re going to remediate this problem away is the wrong path.” -- From Jeremy Miller's report
The Greater Central Valley
California's Central Valley is a large, flat valley that dominates the geographical center of the U.S. state of California. It is 40 to 60 miles (60 to 100 km) wide and stretches approximately 450 miles (720 km) from north-northwest to south-southeast, inland from and parallel to the Pacific Ocean coast. It covers approximately 22,500 square miles (58,000 km2), about 13.7% of California's total land area (slightly smaller than the state of West Virginia), and is home to some of California's most productive agricultural areas.
The Central Valley comprises multiple major watershed systems: the Sacramento Valley, which receives well over 20 inches (510 mm) of rain annually, in the north [pre-drought], the drier San Joaquin Valley in the south, with the Tulare Basin and its semi-arid desert climate at the southernmost end. The Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems drain their respective valleys and meet to form the delta, a large expanse of interconnected canalsstream bedssloughsmarshes and peat islands, ultimately flowing to the Pacific by way of San Francisco Bay.[2] The waters of the Tulare Basin essentially never flow to the ocean, though they are connected by man-made canals to the San Joaquin and could drain there again naturally if they were ever to rise high enough. (Wikipedia)
From Circle of Blue's videotaped interview with professional photographer Matt Black, who's been using his camera for 15 years to document the Central Valley:

Black: "The Central Valley Project is one of the largest manmade rearrangements of water ever attempted -- a series of canals and dams that span the state, that supply the farms of the Central Valley with water. And this entire infrastructure, starting in the Delta, where you have these huge pumping stations that are essentially making a river run backwards, uphill, taking on immense amounts of water to pump it south to Central Valley farmers -- that whole concept is coming to an end. ..."

The 3:30 minute video was posted at Circle of Blue's website to accompany a January 19, 2014 report by Jeremy Miller, California’s Lingering Drought and Pollution Defy Solutions: Less snowmelt from Sierra Nevada leads to more pumping of Central Valley’s contaminated groundwater.

The report is illustrated with black and white photographs Black took for the video.  They are at jarring, disturbing odds with images of the fabled Golden State's sun-drenched landscapes. 

About a year ago I still believed that with enough pluck and ingenuity Californians could save their state from the worst effects of a catastrophic drought. I hadn't read the Circle of Blue report, didn't even know about the organization. I was at the start of a long journey of discovery about water issues. 

The state will be saved.  The fable will be lost in time.


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