PIK Sustainable

Power In Knowledge

Category Ecosystem Based Management

Fear mongering or truth telling? The use of fear in environmental journalism.

On the subject of employing fear in environmental journalism, I am often dismayed by journalism that’s heavy on fear and light on solutions. However, I find willful ignorance—that overexploitation of ecosystems can somehow continue without serious environmental and socioeconomic consequences—even more dismaying. The fact is that superior management alternatives often exist, they’re just not compatible with economic priorities. I proposed one such solution–Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM)–as a possible approach to address water management amidst intensifying drought in California.

On this growing crisis, Daniel Wood of the Christian Science Monitor writes: “Californians are wondering if the government, the media, and residents could be doing more to ensure that reserves last long enough to sustain the state through another year of drought.”

Perhaps a healthy dose of fear could help motivate California’s citizens (including its farmers) to find common ground and take the difficult but necessary steps toward sustainability?

California’s agricultural miracle… may be nearing its expiration date.

Recent articles in the Christian Science Monitor and Huffington Post indicate that California’s drought situation is extreme, with record breaking heat continuing, Sierra Mountain snowpack at a pittance of long-term averages, and the vast majority of reservoirs throughout the Central Valley region at 40% capacity or considerably less. In addition, over allocation of surface waters (apparently 5 x what the state actually has), inadequate conservation efforts, and the drilling frenzy depicted in the original article, are conspiring against effective solutions. Incredibly, California lacked groundwater regulation until last fall—three new bills were introduced to the CA state assembly last September and subsequently signed into law by Governor Brown. The trouble is that implementing the regulations could take years! It may be too little too late. Incidentally, I think Erica Gies’ article “As water crisis deepens, California finally passes groundwater regulation” provides an excellent background on the challenges to conservation in CA’s agriculture sector.

To me, an ecosystem-based approach like Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) offers a sensible solution, particularly in water-stressed regions like California and the Southwestern USA. It’s being applied to varying degrees in river basins around the globe, including the Missouri and Columbia Rivers in the US, and most extensively, in the Murray-Darling Basin of Australia. This kind of management prioritizes in-stream flows (to maintain environmental flows necessary for river system health), takes into account tributaries, ground water supplies, as well as other components of the hydrological system, and integrates ecological needs and human needs into river basin/water resource management.

CA should follow the Murray-Darling Basin’s lead by implementing a cap on total withdrawals from surface and ground water supplies, a market to enable trading and allocation of water resources to where they’re needed most, and ecosystem-based management protocols. The sacrifices necessary in such lean times will be shared by all stakeholders, but will likely impact the agricultural sector hardest. It may be the only path to a sustainable future for farming in the Central Valley.

Farmers in California’s Central Valley get a harsh lesson on ecological limits, but will they learn?

In today’s edition of the Guardian, Rory Carroll describes how farmers in California are drilling ever deeper to postpone what may be inevitable: the re-desertification of our nation’s most productive agricultural region. Unfortunately, the drought situation is so severe and mismanagement of water resources so entrenched, that we may be witnessing the beginning of widespread ecological and socio-economic collapse in California’s Central Valley. It’s tragic when so many livelihoods are on the line, but after decades of overexploitation of fragile water resources for agricultural development, California has only itself to blame.

If too many farmers resort to such desperate measures, an already dire situation will only get worse…ground water sources will be irreversibly depleted with far-reaching effects on the environment and economy of California. This is not even considering the uncertain, but predictable damage from widespread use of fossil water that may be highly saline and/or laden with heavy metals and other compounds toxic to surface ecology.

This is the time for our government–at both state and federal levels if necessary–to intervene, with regulations, financial assistance, and guidance founded on ecosystem-based Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), to help farmers and non-farmers alike transition to a new reality of water scarcity.

If water management continues to be prioritized for economic outcomes, the gains (if any) will only be short lived and California’s agricultural sector will collapse…end of story. Policies must make a clean break from past and current practices, which continue to support consumption beyond what is ecologically sustainable. IWRM could help reorient management to current ecological realities while restoring damaged ecosystems to health. California’s future depends on it.