Taking water for granted not such a good idea

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water from shallow wells has been replaced by sucking from their deep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

and hydrological.

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

us.

* CATHARINE COOPER is a local designer, photographer and writer

who thrives off beaten trails. She can be reached at

cooper@cooperdesign.net or (949) 497-5081.

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