Conversations About Water

Reading through the public comments of The Atlantic article “American Aqueduct: The Great California Water Saga” by Alexis Madrigal, a few major themes emerges.  The most prevalent of which is commenting on the historical perspectives of water infrastructure and water availability in desert cultures throughout history, and how this could apply to the aridity of California and the ongoing struggle to ensure fresh water is available to the citizens in the more arid regions of the state.  Additionally, to maintaining the largest agribusiness economy in the United States.  Other major topics covered in the public commenting were focused on the idea that large societies should not be living in desert areas if there is not a sustainable and local source of fresh water to support those communities. Along with the other major topic concerning the usage of water by California’s agriculture businesses versus the amount of water used by people in their everyday lives.

Tim305 offers a solid viewpoint on the subject of why civilizations arise in arid and deserted regions by explaining that past societies and empires that were able to build infrastructure to harness water sources and direct the flow into desert regions, would have less conflict and battles for control over their abundance.  That deserts, unlike more temperate and lush environments, are more challenging ecosystems in which to build massive water channeling infrastructure, making these desert regions less prone to invasion and take-over, and that California has continued along a similar historical path.

Slatlantican continues along this line of thinking by talking about two of the most significant of desert dwelling empires that eventually disintegrated – Mesopatamia, and ancient Egypt.  This commenter made a point to the fact that Mesopatamian civilization eventually fell because of its collapsed agriculture.  The collapse being caused by elevated salinity of the arid soils because of excess irrigation on soil that was acclimated to low water.  While this may not be the eventual fate for California’s main agriculture regions, since the majority of the Central Valley was once a vast watershed that became flooded from annual snowmelt, Slatlantican makes the case that Egypt’s rapid increase in population caused the massive empire to crumble, perhaps mirroring California’s current population boom.  Nonetheless, Egypt has the abundant Nile river, while California’s annual snowfall can fluctuate wildly depending on aberrant weather cycles and impending climate change disruptions.

Other commenters make the point of the overwhelming use of water by California’s agribusiness in comparison to the comparatively low percentage of water used by municipalities and individual homes.  AndreL clearly states that the article accentuates the reality that only 20% of water usage is for individuals and municipalities.  The remaining 80% of water is used primarily for industrial and agriculture business.  Another commenter Concernedresidentofearth makes the point that current facts point to approximately 60% of California’s water usage on agriculture is exported throughout the world in produce grown here in the state, bringing up the point that our water usage here in the arid regions of the westernmost United States is being used to provide people around the world with quality products, such as the water-intensive crop almonds.

Needless to say, California’s water usage situation is a complex story of economic wealth, coupled with the ongoing ecological pressures of water availability.  At some point in the near future climate change could possibly bring about an economic collapse of sorts here in the Golden State if agribusiness can’t find ways to conserve water.


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