Waterblogged.info’s New Year’s Resolutions!

Like the “Fifty things to do before you die” lists, New Year’s resolutions are driven by a nagging, narcissistic dissatisfaction that feels an awful lot like guilt. But the “fifty things” lists are more ambitious than the typical beginning-of-the-year vows to go to the gym five times a week and organize your iTunes library. They’re usually based on the premise that you’re, if not affluent, at least comfortably middle-class, and are convinced that no life is well lived until one has, for example, scaled K2, jammed on a violin over the Hungarian minor scale with a blown-away Yo Yo Ma, taught English to the grateful inhabitants of Lesotho, made perfect soft-boiled eggs at several different altitudes, and impressed residents of Beijing with flawless Mandarin.

Of course, the must-do lists of the billion or so poor of the planet are no doubt less ambitious but more immediate: Get access to clean water before I die, eat before I die, get decent medical care before I die, etc. Everything’s relative.

This year, I’ve decided to come up with a hybrid of the two sorts of list, water related of course: Ten New Year’s Resolutions to Do Before I Die. Rather than just bore the reader with my self-involved and possibly grandiose goals, I’ve linked each item to a compelling–and in some cases fascinating–bit of information about everyone’s favorite sugar-free beverage.

  1. Collaborate with Dr. Peter Gleick to put a stop to the gargantuan, insane, destined-to-fail desalination project moving relentlessly forward in Southern California.
  2. Help Matt Damon move mountains.
  3. Get myself appointed Obama’s special peace envoy to broker settlements to supposedly imminent water wars.
  4. Work feverishly with NASA scientists to figure out how to efficiently transport moon water to Earth.
  5. Save the salmon!
  6. Fish for Asian carp in the Great Lakes.
  7. Work with Willie Nelson to develop an iPhone app version of his home water-from-air system.
  8. Jet-ski the Golden Age Lake!
  9. Join up with Food & Water Watch. (This may be the only attainable goal on this list.)
  10. Not go for months without posting.

The clearinghouse for dam removal information

As the many frequent visitors to Waterblogged.info know–from such posts as this and this–we’re enthusiastic about the salutary effects of ridding the world of useless, outmoded, and ill-conceived dams.

Although the catchily-named The Clearinghouse for Dam Removal Information carefully hews to the unwritten law decreeing that water-related sites must be visually unappealing, it is a valuable resource for those interested in the pros and cons of dismantling dams to allow rivers and streams to once again be . . .mmmm, rivers and streams.

The site, according to its editors, is unbiased on the matter, but we think there’s a bit of the old nudge-nudge, wink-wink here. But it’s stated purpose, to provide a resource in which those on both sides of the issue can learn more, is spot-on and important. Some people balk at the notion of dismantling a local dam because they don’t understand why it may be beneficial, while some environmentalists fail to see or at least underestimate the possible negative consequences of destroying dams and impoundments that have existed for centuries.

After marveling at the site’s Web .002 look and feel, check out the video that is linked from a tiny brown box hiding in the upper left corner that contains barely legible text. The video is free and therefore inexplicably not posted on YouTube. You can view it online, where it streams from a oddly function-free media player devoid of such distractions as rewinding and forwarding. Or you can download the 340-MB file. Sigh.

It’s a nicely made documentary full of current and historical information about the almost total destruction of fish runs and the decimation of the once massive populations of herring, shad, and other anadromous fish in New England. It contains what must be quite rare documentary footage from colonial America (What? Wait a minute, how the. . .Oh, those are costumes!).

It’s a serious, sobering, and even hopeful film, in which at one point the slightly whiny narrator poses the musical question: Will the rhythms of ancient ecosystems once again find harmony? At Waterblogged.info–where the glass is half-empty with polluted water–we’re skeptical, but it sure would be nice for a few more salmon, herring, and shad to be able to reach their spawning grounds, if only to reduce the price of fish at the supermarket.

Congress is failing to act!

When Waterblogged.info’s sources* revealed that the move to restore California’s San Joaquin River is stalled in Congress, an eerie hush fell over our newsroom; the clattering of the typewriters ceased, the editor stopped chewing on her cigar, the copy boy tip-toed out the door to find a better job. Why, we asked ourselves individually and collectively (in italics the way we always do when dumbfounded), why would Congress fail to fund an agreement that’s been almost 20 year in the making, and that has been ordered by a federal judge?

Our sources cleared up the mystery, and restored Waterblogged.info’s characteristic water-news-mongering din, by adding this:

The delay in Congress, according to supporters of the bill, is being caused by new Pay as You Go requirements, meaning the money needed for the restoration has to be offset somewhere else in the budget.

Oooohh, pay as you gooooo! Just like the war in Iraq! Well, that explains it! Satisfied that sanity had be reestablished, we turned back to editing and writing, and in the case of our star reporter, to finishing what the old-timer calls a snort from the bottle he keeps in his top left desk drawer.

Our sources, graciously—and for no additional fees—added the following, in case the reader needs additional information to fuel his or her outrage about the destruction of California’s second-largest river:

The once-mighty river, which literally foamed with spawning salmon back in the day, was dammed in 1943. Now, during summer months, two long sections of the river often dry up for more than 60 miles.

Environmentalists have characterized the draining of the San Joaquin as one of the most egregious examples anywhere of habitat destruction to quench man’s thirst for water.

*The San Francisco Chronicle—that in a rare courageous move—printed a great, well-researched story.

The Snake River Blues: Dammed if you don’t, dammed if you do, Part I

In two previous posts, here and here, we pretty much gave Waterblogged.info’s coveted endorsement to the current nationwide trend of removing damaged and/or useless dams to restore and revitalize the rivers they block. Our entire staff was captivated by the short video documentary embedded below that documents the positive—almost magical—effects of dam removal in three different communities.

The problem is that many existing dams are not useless, such as the four hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington state. They not only provide cheap and clean power, but they have tamed the lower Snake River, making it possible for local wheat farmers to ship their crops relatively inexpensively by barge to Portland, to be then shipped to Asia.

The dams may benefit farmers and nearby rural communities, but they are also driving Idaho sockeye salmon to extinction. Read this article from Save Our Wild Salmon to learn the appalling truth. The Idaho sockeye’s demise is a variation of the same tragic story throughout the northwest: Dams don’t just pen up water—they stop salmon, sturgeon, and striped bass from reaching their freshwater spawning areas. The typical methods to deal with this are either inadequate, expensive, and otherwise problematic—fish ladders—or all that plus absurd, i.e., trapping the fish and transporting them to their spawning grounds.

This statement from environmentalist blog, Wild Northwest, is as good an encapsulation as any of the vision of those who advocate ridding the U.S.’s waterways of dams and returning them to their natural splendor:

Try this mind game at home*: Close your eyes and imagine the Snake River flowing free through four breached dams. Now imagine the seasonal water fluctuations, and the commensurate growth of willows, cottonwoods, and other riparian vegetation. Imagine the animals that repopulate this riverside habitat, the salmon and steelhead that push upstream through restored riffles and runs. Envision new trails and recreational areas, the increase in white water enthusiasts, hunters, and anglers. Think about what they bring to local economies. I’ll gladly pay the extra few dollars in my utility bill.

(*The Waterblogged.info team isn’t sure why you have to do this at home. You could do it anywhere—even in the car, as long as you don’t do the close your eyes part.) Here’s another suggestion to give you some idea of why breaching the Snake River’s dams is problematic: Keep your eyes open and watch the following trailer from the documentary River Ways, that shows another side of the Snake River issue. (River Ways website has a great summary of the controversies involved.) The problem is that the end of the dams means the end of cheap electricity enjoyed by the surrounding rural communities, as well as the inevitable demise of local wheat farms that would no longer be able to ship wheat on the now navigable dam-impounded water. It’s a complicated situation, and as the documentary’s makers note:

. . .the debate pits environmentalists, Native Americans, and fishermen against family farmers and industry advocates before a backdrop of multi-disciplinary science and massive government bureaucracy.

Just to be clear, the Waterblogged.info editorial staff doesn’t believe that the truth always lies in the middle; that is a sentiment that we absolutely despise. When it comes to water disputes, there is usually one side that promotes uncompromising and rampant development, clamors for privatization of water delivery, and proudly flaunts a willfully ignorant disregard for the need to honor and defend natural systems, and it is just friggin’ wrong. However, there is no doubt that if the Snake River dams are destroyed or breached, which at the end of the day is the right thing to do and may soon be the case, the farmers and others who have grown dependent on a dammed and domesticated Snake River are going to lose big time.