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William Shatner boldly goes after Northwest water for California

TV's "Captain Kirk" has a scheme to pipe Washington and Oregon water to drought-stricken California

On the voyages of the Starship Enterprise, Mr. Spock was always the logical one, while Captain Kirk led with his heart. No surprise then that William Shatner, the actor who played Kirk in the original "Star Trek" television series, has boldly gone where few have dared by proposing a $30-billion pipeline to carry water from the Pacific Northwest to drought-ravaged California.

Shatner says there is too much water in places like Seattle, so no one would miss it.

”How bad would it be to get a large, 4-foot pipeline, keep it aboveground — because if it leaks, you’re irrigating!” Shatner told an interviewer. “It’s simple. They did it in Alaska — why can’t they do it along Highway 5?”

Well, as Spock would respond, “It’s not logical.”

Despite the stereotypical image that most people in the country have about the far, upper left hand corner of the United States, it doesn’t always rain there. In fact, New York City gets more total rainfall than Seattle. The difference is that Seattle rain is generally more of a mist that stretches the cloudy days out over weeks and, sometimes, months, which is why the city is a great place for cozy coffee shops, movie theaters and public libraries — anywhere to escape the soggy gray. It may or may not be true that the weather inspires more suicides, but it certainly is the reason that Northwesterners all dress like mountain climbers, even if they are headed to the opera.

The hidden secret, though, is that, from July through September, Seattle is usually as sunny and rainless as Los Angeles. Surrounded by mountains, lakes and Puget Sound, the place is spectacularly beautiful. It makes the gray months worth enduring.

This year, though, even those gray months have not been so gray and definitely not as wet. Like the rest of the West Coast, the snowpack in the Cascade range is way below normal. Already, large sections of Washington and Oregon are seriously parched. It’s easy for people unfamiliar with the region to overlook the fact that the eastern halves of both states are arid. Like the Central Valley in California, it is massive irrigation that keeps vast agricultural areas of the Northwest from drying up and returning to dust and tumbleweeds.

The region’s salmon fisheries also depend on water from the Columbia and other rivers. And the industrial sector of the economy is built on cheap hydroelectric power. That is why officials in Oregon and Washington have quickly rebuffed past schemes by Californians thirsting for a share of all that water up north and why they will certainly say no again.

So, Shatner’s pipeline scheme is not likely to get off the ground. He could, of course, try pitching the plan using Spock’s often-stated assertion that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” There are, after all, close to 40 million human beings in California and just 11 million in Washington and Oregon, combined. Think of all the Golden State crops to be irrigated, the lawns to be watered, the cars to be washed, the swimming pools to be filled, the golf courses to be kept lush and green!

On second thought, do not think of the golf courses. Or the pools. Or those dust-streaked Maseratis and Teslas.

And don’t think badly of Shatner. He has made his proposal with tongue firmly planted in cheek. After receiving a negative response from folks up in the land of Amazon, Starbucks, REI and Microsoft, Shatner sent out a tweet that read: “Dearest Citizens of Seattle if you think I'm an idiot or evil enough to steal your much needed water; you don't know me very well.”

See? We knew he was a hero. What Shatner is really hoping to do is bring attention to a big challenge — not just the drying up of California, but the drying out of the entire West. It is a challenge that needs to have brought to it some bold, futuristic ideas. It is a worthy mission for everyone, from border to border.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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