CHASING DOWN THE MUSE
"It was as though I could hear the sound rain begins to make in a
country where it is not going to come for a long time."
-- BARRY LOPEZ, RIVER NOTES
Drought. Even the word sounds dry. Images of shriveled shrubs,
parched lands and dying trees fill my imagination, only to be
replaced by reality as I hike deep into our wilderness park.
The earth crunches in pocked places, breaking apart under the
weight of my boots. Dust pillows around my feet. Each step flings
particles into the air. Thistle flowers -- dry golden threads -- spin
and toss on sea-blown breezes. These are the dog days. The days of
longing for rains that have yet to come.
Southern California's rainy season officially begins Nov. 15, but
arguments abound about when and how much precipitation will actually
fall. First, the warm days of autumn arrive, and then the expectation
of dreaded Santa Ana winds. Except for our coastal fog, dry will
continue to be the menu of the day.
In China, enormous dust storms blanket and darken the skies of
Beijing, blown from over-grazed and drought-plagued slopes. Pumping
water from shallow wells has been replaced by sucking from their deep
aquifers water that cannot be replenished.
In the Klamath Basin, 30,000 salmon died in the last four weeks,
the result of a bacterial infection from overly-warm and shallow
waters, caused by water storage for farmers. Raging forest fires have
run rampant through our own moisture-starved western states.
Drought, as defined, is a normal, recurring feature of climate. It
occurs almost everywhere, although its features vary from region to
region. In the most general sense, drought originates from a lack of
precipitation for a long period of time, resulting in a water
shortage for some activity, group or environmental sector.
There are three levels of drought: meteorological, agricultural
Meteorological drought relates to our own personal experience,
i.e., lack of precipitation for a long time .
Agricultural drought produces soil water deficiencies, reduced
yields and stress on plants. Extreme manifestations include dust bowl
conditions and crop failures.
Hydrological drought, or reduced inflows to reservoirs, lakes and
ponds, affects wetlands and wildlife habitats, and the overall
long-term viability of storage systems, both above and underground.
This third level has economic, social and environmental effects.
Who gets what water and when? A pair of red-tailed hawks soars
above me, searching for small rodents, ground squirrels or baby
birds. They shift their soaring toward the surreal green lawns and
rabbits of the irrigated housing that hugs the ridge.
There is talk of El Nino, but no one seems to concur. The climate
prediction center suggests that even if there is improvement in the
southwestern states, there will be areas that will continue to have
serious water shortages even with normal snowfall amounts. The
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts El Nino
conditions, but with the rain falling primarily in the southern
states, the northwest should experience drier than average
conditions. Where we fall in Southern California is still a guess.
Tied to all of this is an outside correlation to ongoing
temperature changes that the earth is experiencing -- as in, it's
getting warmer. No kidding.
The Goddard Institute for Space Studies reported in June 2002 that
the temperatures for September and November 2001 were the highest
recorded in the last 134 years. And the 15 warmest years since 1867
have all come since 1980. With the warmth has come melting of ice
shelves, causing rising sea levels, which ultimately could wipe out
deltas and international food production.
It's all interconnected. Water. Temperature. Food. The basics. And
we are all responsible.
The point of which seems to be that the desert I live in is
abundantly green in its urban/suburban character. And we obtain the
bulk of our water from sources that are already overtaxed. And we are
plowing down watersheds with unconscious haste, leaving behind drier
and drier regions, that we will likely live to regret.
Every drop of water is precious. Imagine having to sip mud. We
take so much for granted. I hope we can all stop, broaden our
consciousness, and become the conservationists that the earth asks of
* CATHARINE COOPER is a local designer, photographer and writer
who thrives off beaten trails. She can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or (949) 497-5081.