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Living within our water limits

Environmentally speaking

Posted: December 17, 2008 8:43 p.m.
Updated: December 18, 2008 4:55 a.m.
A few days ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued its final "biological opinion" on the Sacramento Delta Smelt.

In order to protect this endangered fish, the opinion will make permanent the pumping reductions ordered last year by Judge Oliver Wanger.

But to many people who have been working on water supply issues in the state, it accomplishes something far more important. It forces us to acknowledge the limits of our water supply.

For the past several generations, since Mulholland in the 1900s and Pat Brown in the 1960s with the State Water Project, Angelenos, including Santa Claritans, have turned on their taps and water came out.

It was cheap, it was abundant, and it was always there. So we thought no more about it.

But the technology and massive engineering projects that brought us this miracle of cheap and accessible water neglected the one issue of prime importance: its limits.

People just didn't think about it. The Sacramento River seemed so huge the supply would be boundless, so there really was no limit.

Now, with a burgeoning population in our state and in the world, limits are appearing everywhere. There are limits to fossil-fuel reserves, limits to our forests and limits to our water supply in California.

In spite of the obvious biological warning of a deteriorating Sacramento Delta, farmers and developers continued to demand more and more water.

In Santa Clarita, we looked north to the Sacramento River rather than protecting our own water supply. We lined stream after stream with concrete because developers produced reports that said it wouldn't matter.

We paved and built over the floodplains of the Santa Clara River in prime water re-charge areas, again based on reports by engineers for the developers that said there would be "no significant effect."

Projects such as the shopping center at Newhall Ranch Road and Bouquet Canyon Road were developed at the cost of an ugly concrete box channel in Bouquet Creek that paved over a prime recharge area.

Instead of protecting our own river to ensure a sustainable water supply, we settled for the short-term gain of a shopping center development over the long-term sustainability of our water supply.

Now with water suppliers facing the prospect of climate change and a reduction of the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which feeds the Sacramento River, the limits of the State Water Project have become all too clear.

But it still took the help of a tiny fish to force us to face this pending crisis.

Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment celebrated its 21st year of existence this year. Over these many years we have loudly urged preservation of the Santa Clara River, its floodplains and re-charge areas in every public venue, with River Tours, at the River Rally and even by partnering in the CalArts event "The River is Our Parade."

We talked about the river's habitat and we talked about the water that our river provides this community.

We were not alone. Efforts by many other environmental organizations from the Friends of the Santa Clara River to the national organizations such as Audubon, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity have sung the praises of our river and its water supply and called for its protection.

While some might harangue the Fish and Wildlife Service and Judge Wanger for "choosing fish over people," we applaud their courage.

We must face the limits of our water supply and use water more wisely. We must initiate water conservation techniques, both in cities and on farms.

We must reexamine the crops we plant and where we plant them. We must look again at how we landscape our homes and water our open spaces. We must do all this before our water supply becomes so depleted the damage is irreparable.

Failure to take new and determined actions to reexamine our water use in this era of increasing limits might well destroy our economy and our quality of life.

We must change how and where we use this precious resource. If it takes the court and a tiny fish to make us do it, than so be it.

Cam Noltemeyer is a Santa Clarita resident and a board member of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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