On the northern edge of the Mojave Desert, a new trauma has awakened old concerns: What happens if a town’s water gets shut off? The question keeps Danny Tolbert awake most nights. Two years ago his taps ran dry after a 7.1 earthquake nearly brought down his house and community. That was three months before his stroke, before he learned how diseased his heart was.
It’s a strange place to find fish, deep in the high desert, where drought-baked earth butts against scrubby mountains.
But water spews from the hot springs on Ron Barnes’ land near the California-Oregon border, pure and perfect for rearing c’waam and koptu, two kinds of endangered suckerfish sacred to Native American tribes.
Drought has long fueled tensions between growers, who depend on the water for irrigation, and the Klamath Tribes, who hold two protected fish species as sacred.
A water war is under way in Sacramento right now that could have far-reaching impacts on families in the Central Valley. “We totally believe this is a water grab,” says Ryan Jacobsen, Board President for the Fresno Irrigation District.
Picture the desert landscape of a Mad Max movie populated with vigilantes devoted to acquiring not gasoline — but water. This scenario isn’t as far-fetched as you might think. “Water wars” describes conflicts between countries, states, or groups over the right to access water resources, usually freshwater. Freshwater is necessary for drinking, irrigation, and electricity generation, and conflicts occur when the demand for potable water exceeds the supply, or when allocation or control of water is disputed.
California water agencies yesterday sued the state over endangered species protections they claim threaten their ability to provide water to more than 25 million residents and thousands of acres of farmland.
The lawsuit is an extraordinary step, underscoring that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) now has multiple crises on his plate: the coronavirus pandemic and a rapidly devolving water war.
At issue is water shipped from California’s water hub, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta east of San Francisco, south via the State Water Project, a massive system of dams, canals and aqueducts.
California recently issued a new permit for the project under the state’s endangered species law.
The water agencies that get their water from the project — which include the country’s largest water provider — are challenging it in court, saying the terms of the permit would increase their costs by $22 million annually.
Another water war is getting underway.
This time we are not fighting California. It’s a family feud right here in Arizona. Urban versus rural. Phoenix and Tucson ganging up on the rural communities along the Colorado River in western Arizona.
The opening shots have been fired by out-of-state speculators buying up farms along the river. Once they have these “water farms” in hand, they intend to strip the water from the land and send it 200 miles up the Central Arizona Project canal to developers in Maricopa and Pima counties.