sandhill cranes, © USFWS/Paul Boyte

Fish Out of Water (Literally!)

CA legislators need to focus on sustainable drought solutions

I am envisioning that scene from the movie “There Will Be Blood” – you know, the epic part where Daniel Day Lewis screams “I drink YOUR milkshake…” Of course, there’s a whole twisted and complicated plot line that leads to that scene, but the point is, Lewis has a straw long enough, so he can just reach across the room and start stealing someone’s milkshake.

Apparently, the same rules apply when we’re talking about water. Instead of focusing policy decisions on more water use efficiency and conservation, and making strategic infrastructure investments to increase water supply reliability and sustainability, some California lawmakers are planning to solve the crisis Daniel Day Lewis-style – by siphoning water away from imperiled fish, birds and wetlands.

Some of these legislators are trying to waive environmental laws left and right in a desperate attempt to gain access to water that doesn’t exist – we can’t magically create rain and snowpack – and in the process are making survival even harder for already threatened species like salmon and steelhead.

Chinook Salmon, © Dave Bickford

And what they don’t seem to realize is that, in sacrificing the state’s native fish populations, they are also putting a $1.4 billion dollar industry that supports tens of thousands of jobs up and down the state at risk. A collapse in the salmon population could devastate that sector of California’s economy for years – by ignoring the needs of wildlife during this time of crisis, we just hurt ourselves even more.

Perhaps these legislators should consider that growing almonds in the middle of the desert where groundwater levels have plummeted isn’t a practice that is sustainable, and shouldn’t be one that gets high priority when it comes to water allocations (there’s that big straw in the rapidly dwindling milkshake again); or that cities – other major water users – need to invest in updated infrastructure that uses and conserves water for maximum efficiency.

California is looking at a literal case of fish out of water – native fish populations have already faced crippling impacts from dam building, river and stream diversions, pollution, invasive species and other afflictive human activities, and the drought has only compounded all of those impacts. The state has already lost over 90 percent of its wetlands to development, and it’s not only fish and bird populations that are suffering because of it. We are too. Wetlands can provide food and safety for juvenile fish and are critical stopovers of refuge for migratory birds, but they are also essential to maintaining clean, healthy supplies that support our water consumption, too. Again, diverting water from these areas only hurts us in the long run.

Thankfully, some legislators, especially Rep. Jared Huffman, are on the right track. As he said in a recent column for the Sacramento Bee, “California deserves better than the predictable ‘blame the fish’ carnival. We cannot condemn ‘inconvenient’ salmon runs to extinction, pre-empt state water rights, or declare winners and losers among the state’s drought-stricken regions.” Rep. Huffman’s legislative proposals are based on finding long-term, comprehensive drought and water scarcity solutions, and others should follow his lead. Stop stealing the milkshake.

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5 Responses to “Fish Out of Water (Literally!)”

  1. Marian

    Why has no one ordered Nestle to suspend their bottled water scam here?

  2. Michael Gary

    With the melting Greenland ice sheet, and Antarctic ice sheets breaking up, why can’t California build a fleet of solar powered super tankers to gather fresh water and bring it there to mitigate the drought ? ? ?
    Pipelines that take water from one place that needs it, and transfer it to another place that needs it, is just robbing Peter to pay Paul…..
    The fresh water pouring off Greenland, and the massive ice sheets in Antarctica could be a solution to the fresh water crisis around the world…..

  3. Catina Genchi

    Save our water and resources for our consumption. Our animals are our responsibility for our earth and mother earth.

  4. coleen harvey

    when was the last time anyone saw anyone in California conserving water or getting ticketed for over consumption–NOT. they’ll suck us dry.

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