Water and our way of life

Protecting our water requires supporting advocacy groups

Mr. Alexander is a retired professor of biology at Chico State University. He lives in Chico.
For more on this subject, see “Water Crusade,” by Tom Gascoyne.

An individual looking at full creeks and rivers said, “Look at the water we are losing!” However, native California did not waste water. Fish, small animals and plants living in the Delta and San Francisco Bay are both adapted to and dependent upon annual inflows of fresh water.

At an earlier time, the lower Sacramento River Valley often flooded, trapping explorers on the Sutter Buttes, which remained an island during the rains. This stranding was not a hardship because of the abundant wildlife.

Dams, water diversion and pollution turned once magnificent salmon runs into memories; the few remaining salmon have a precarious existence. Houses, industries and roads depend upon dikes, especially during heavy but infrequent rains. As we rebuild riparian forests, they again support plants and animals that benefit from flooding, and these river’s-edge forests support wildlife in our dry summers.

Surface water is connected to aquifers, underground strata that hold and move water. Aquifers receive water from and provide water to foothill streams. Aquifer sizes and the rate of water movement through them are difficult to determine. Some aquifers take years, decades or even centuries to move the same amount of water we watch moving through rain-swollen creeks and rivers in a few days.

The number of rain days is more important to aquifers than total rainfall. It will take years of steady rainfall to recharge aquifers dried by a run of drought years.

Sadly, we have learned the importance of shallow aquifers when they are destroyed by land subsidence caused by removing more water than is recharged. In Northern California, deep aquifers are attracting interest as surface water becomes scarce. Deep aquifers receive water slowly, if at all. It requires special techniques to measure water movement in deep aquifers. Deep wells may be mining this potentially finite resource of unknown size.

California has a history of conflicts over water. These conflicts politically link different communities with rural as well as agricultural interests. Currently, the preservation of endangered species and natural environments is being measured against water demands. Also, agriculture in the San Joaquin River Valley is competing for water used by agriculture in the Sacramento River Valley. Sending Northern California water south is a political issue.

We must support advocacy groups to maintain our way of life in Northern California.