DOWN on the FARM
with Tom Willey
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KFCF, 88.1 FM Fresno
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Organic Farm | Madera, California
DOWN on the FARM
with Tom Willey
I suffer a weakness for accumulating the written word, and to read it all during this waning lifetime is my ambition. My library’s most treasured volume is the large-format, visually stunning 1979 cartographic masterpiece The California Water Atlas, commissioned by Governor Brown’s previous administration during the 1976-1977 drought to enhance knowledge of our state’s hydraulic complexity. A brilliant mind behind that epic publication’s execution popped out of the woodwork last week. Project Director and Editor William L. Kahrl’s May 1st CSUF presentation to Friends of the Madden Library was provocatively titled: “Death in the Almond Orchard”. In an authoritative air, white- bearded Sebastian Cabot look-alike Kahrl lectured on principal differences between California’s then and now, and the adequacy of a water system whose infrastructure remains essentially unchanged. The Golden State’s nearly doubled population since ’76- ‘77’s epic drought, and previously unrequired environmental remediation demanding massive volumes of water strain a “broken system”. So what’s broken? Kahrl argues that California’s hydrologic balance only functions when relatively unrestricted flows can be exported from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Controversy over declining fish populations has turned the Delta into a bottleneck that cripples operations of the federal Central Valley Project and California’s State Water Project. Jerry Brown’s first administration “Peripheral Canal” fixit scheme was defeated by voters, his second “Twin Tunnel” patch currently sizzles on the political frying pan. Kahrl suggests “fresh breezes blowing through the scientific community” could facilitate a Delta re-plumbing imperative. He cited University of Maryland’s estuarine ecologist Dr. Patricia M. Gilbert’s landmark 2010-published research implicating aquatic food chain disruption, triggered by Sacramento’s ammonia-laced sewage outfall, as the major factor driving salmon population declines. San Joaquin Valley agriculture’s Delta water imports had long suffered the blame for disappearing fish, although those species’ numbers never increased after pumping was severely restricted. Kahrl asserts nothing pristine remains in a Delta environment that has been massively transformed by human hands since Gold Rush times. Arguments to the contrary are self-serving, says the water historian who envisions a more flexible water infrastructure that can support the world’s 7th-largest economy, habitat conservation and enhancement. Our Endangered Species Act, commonly triggering extraordinary efforts to preserve handfuls of near-extinct individuals, also embodies “Section 10” which enables the flexibility Kahrl seeks. Rambunctious Garden author Emma Marris and Kahrl agree on putting the “pristine myth” behind us for the benefit of our own kind and the wellbeing of myriad other species. – Tom Willey
California Water Atlas: bit.ly/1cBv9ER Dr. Patricia M. Gilbert: bit.ly/1GVRRz4