Water: Southwest Coalition Statement of Commitment and Call for Allies

            Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting over. —Mark Twain

More than any other area of North America, the Southwest faces water shortages just as demands for water increase. These colliding forces are inevitable products of industrial civilization. Deep Green Resistance chapters across the Southwest recognize the imminent catastrophe. We view the protection of ground and surface water, and the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights to their water and landbase, as critically important. We declare water preservation and justice as our primary focus.

Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition is a confederation of DGR action groups located in the southwest region of North America. While each group focuses on ecological and social justice issues specific to their region, as a Coalition we work together to reinforce each group’s efforts. Our members include:

Deep Green Resistance Colorado Plateau

Deep Green Resistance Sonoran

Deep Green Resistance Colorado

Deep Green Resistance Great Basin

Deep Green Resistance Chaparral

Great Basin Spring, Goshute Reservation

Great Basin Spring, Goshute Reservation

The Increasingly Arid Southwest

The region is among the driest areas in the world. The southwest receives only 5-15 inches of rainfall a year[1] and nearly all climate models predict an increase in both aridity and flooding with global warming.[2] As increasing temperatures force the jet stream further north and more surface water is evaporated (notably in desert reservoirs like Lake Powell where an average 860,000 acre-feet of water—about 8 percent of the Colorado River’s annual flow—is lost every year),[3] overall precipitation is decreasing even as summer storms paradoxically become more intense. And there is no margin of safety from which civilization can draw—the Colorado River, for example, is already fully allocated; all the water is claimed.[4]

Agriculture is far and away the largest water consumer: California’s Imperial Irrigation District consumes 3.1 million acre-feet of Colorado River water every year, compared to the rest of Southern California, which gets only 1.3 million.[5] Large amounts of water are also used for oil and gas drilling—an estimated 100,000 gallons per fracked well[6]—and coal mining and burning.

 

Ken Dewey, climate.gov

Ken Dewey, climate.gov

The water shortage is already wreaking havoc among wildlife. In California, the drought is partially implicated in the deaths of tens of thousands of native waterfowl. As water sources dry, birds congregate around remaining oases like fountains and irrigation ditches. In such close quarters, disease spreads quickly. Other victims of water scarcity in California include scores of thousands of bark beetle-killed trees—so much so that these results “herald a region in ecological transition.”[10] Unsurprisingly, 2015 is among the worst California fire seasons ever.This year, twelve western states declared drought emergencies.[7] On April 25, 2015, the largest US reservoir, Lake Mead, dropped to an historic low of 1,080 feet. That record surpassed the previous low set last August; Mead has never been lower since it was filled in the 1930s.[8] These conditions are unlikely to improve. In spring of 2015, snowpack in the Sierra Mountains measured at just 5 percent of normal.[9]

Desperate Measures

These unprecedented changes are driving ever more desperate and costly projects, such as the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s planned multi-billion-dollar pipeline project in eastern Nevada’s and western Utah’s arid basin and range country. If completed, the project would pump billions of gallons of groundwater to Las Vegas, threatening the Goshute Indian reservation, the livelihoods of ranchers, many rare endemic species, and the land itself.[11]

A proposed California water pipeline may move as much as 7.5 million acre feet of northern California water south a year. It was just revised to include only a third of the originally planned habitat protection, re-allocating water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Situated between California’s wetter north and its dry and populous south, the delta contains one of California’s largest remaining wetlands, home of green sturgeon, steelhead, and endangered Delta smelt.[12] More extreme are plans to siphon off some of Canada’s abundant water to California.[13] As drought and demand continue their increasing arcs, however, these desperate plans for massive water transfers become more acceptable to many.

The Only Sane Response

The government-industry axis takes water from the less powerful, regardless of any natural rights such groups may have.[14] This cannot continue, not even beyond the very short term. When the unstoppable force of increasing demand for water—continuing without limit—meets the immovable object of shrinking water supplies, environmental devastation and injustice swiftly follows.

DGR Southwest Coalition supports any protective or restorative action for ground and surface water, including the removal of dams and reservoirs by any means necessary. At the same time, we advocate for and support the dismantling of the systems (capitalism specifically and industrial civilization generally) as the only strategic way to safeguard the planet, and to keep it from degrading into a barren, lifeless husk. These are daunting tasks, no doubt, even if we limit our focus to the southwest; and yet, it’s a critical calling for all of us who care for life and justice.

We are reaching out to others who also view water protection and justice as values worth fighting for. For example, preserving instream flows (what’s left in a stream channel after other allocations) and groundwater protection—from fracking, from water mining, from surface contamination. We offer whatever expertise and resources we can muster, and all the passion we have, for our landbase. We’re ready to work with those who struggle with these problems; we’re also ready to take on whatever role is necessary in support of their fights.

This fight should be shared. Please contact us so we can network with you in pursuit of water, justice, and life.

swcoalition@deepgreenresistance.org

[1] C. Daly, R.P. Neilson, and D.L. Phillips, 1994. “A statistical-topographic model for mapping climatological precipitation over mountainous terrain,” J. Appl. Meteor., 33(2), 140-158, as displayed in http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/pcpn/westus_precip.gif

[2] Melanie Lenart, “Precipitation Changes,” Southwest Climate Change Network, September 18, 2008,  http://www.southwestclimatechange.org/node/790#references

[3] “Glen Canyon Dam,” Wikipedia, accessed December 10, 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glen_Canyon_Dam. An acre-foot is about 325,853 US gallons.

[4] Brett Walton, “In Drying Colorado River Basin, Indian Tribes Are Water Dealmakers,” Circle of Blue, July 1, 2015, http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2015/world/in-drying-colorado-river-basin-indian-tribes-are-water-dealmakers/

[5] Tony Perry, “Despite drought, water flowing freely in Imperial Valley,” Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-drought-imperial-valley-20150412-story.html

[6] Rory Carroll, “Fracking In California Used 70 Million Gallons Of Water In 2014,” Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/02/fracking-california-water_n_6997324.html

[7] Elizabeth Shogren, “Senate considers legislation to help the West store and conserve water,” High Country News, June 3, 2015, http://www.hcn.org/articles/california-farmers-fear-irrigation-water-will-go-to-salmon-instead

[8] Sarah Tory, “Canadian water for California’s drought?” High Country News, April 28, 2015, http://www.hcn.org/articles/could-canadas-water-solve-californias-drought-1

[9] Ben Goldfarb, “Fowl play: California’s drought fingered in bird deaths,” High Country News, April 2, 2015, http://www.hcn.org/articles/fowl-play-californias-drought-fingered-in-bird-deaths

[10] Keith Schneider, “California Fire Danger Mounts in Sierra Nevada Forests,” Circle of Blue, July 10, 2015, http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2015/world/as-california-drought-rebalances-sierra-forests-fire-danger-mounts/

[11] Stephen Dark, “Last Stand: Goshutes battle to save their sacred water,” Salt Lake City Weekly, May 9, 2012, http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/article-35-15894-last-stand.html?current_page=all

[12] Kate Schimel, “Gov. Brown slashes Sacramento Delta environmental protection,” High Country News, May 7, 2015, http://www.hcn.org/articles/gov-jerry-brown-slashes-delta-environmental-protection

[13] Sarah Tory, “Canadian water for California’s drought?” High Country News, April 28, 2015, http://www.hcn.org/articles/could-canadas-water-solve-californias-drought-1

[14] Ed Becenti, “Senate Bill 2109 Seeks to Extinguish Navajo and Hopi Water Rights,” Native News Network, April 4, 2012, http://www.nativenewsnetwork.com/senate-bill-2109-seeks-to-extinguish-navajo-and-hopi-water-rights.html

 

The threat bigger than toxic spills facing Western Rivers

 

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Industrial civilization and the living planet don’t mix; the former is destroying the latter. A recent article from Summit Daily details one of the threats; to rivers in Colorado and the Southwest. 

Join Deep Green Resistance in working to help all rivers run free.

 

The threat bigger than toxic spills facing Western Rivers

Gary Wockner
Writers on the Range

If there’s any good news to be gained from the toxic spill of mine wastes into the Animas River upstream of Durango, it’s that public attention has suddenly shifted to the health of rivers in the West.

The 3-million-gallon accident riveted the media, even rating a story in England’s Guardian newspaper. Here at home, officials took action almost immediately: Biologists put out fish cages to see if the sludge was killing fish, and chemists began testing the murky water for acidity and heavy metal concentrations. Within a few days, the governor, both Colorado U.S. senators, and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency — whose contractors triggered the spill — showed up in Durango to express their regret, outrage, support, etc. They promised that it would never happen again.

But of course a disaster is sure to occur again, because there are thousands of century-old abandoned mines in the region that have never been thoroughly cleaned up. And as the saying goes: Acid mine drainage is forever.

But while an orange plume of heavy metals moving through a river system toward a major reservoir like Lake Powell is certainly a serious problem, there’s another danger targeting rivers in the West. It’s the kind of disaster that sometimes kills every living creature in a river, imperils the river’s health for weeks and months, causes extensive contaminations of e. coli and heavy metals and destroys the recreational economy — rafting, tubing, fishing — for months at a time.

This disaster is caused by dams. Whether they are large or small, they block a river so that water can be diverted for farms, ranches or domestic use. From its beginnings high on the Continental Divide, for example, the Colorado River loses 90 percent of its flow to diversion in the first 40 miles.

Once the Arkansas River leaves the mountains and heads for Kansas, it becomes a dribble of its former self. The dammed and diverted South Platte River through Denver is often a putrid, algae-ridden and depleted mess, and when it exits town, most of its flow is made up of discharge from Denver’s sewage treatment plant.

The Cache la Poudre, near my home in northern Colorado, is sometimes drained bone-dry as it moves through downtown Fort Collins, and when it does have water in it, its native flow is diminished over 50 percent by dams and diversions.

Colorado is just the tip of the iceberg of river destruction. Rivers across New Mexico and Utah are in a similar desperate condition. And in Southern California and Arizona, most rivers are drained completely dry every single year. The Gila River in Arizona, once a large and beautiful tributary of the Colorado River, is now completely dead except during rare monsoon rains that fall perhaps once every 20 years.

But there’s worse to come. The states of Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah have all just gone through official water-planning processes and are proposing even more dams and river-draining activity. The governor of Wyoming has called for “10 new dams in 10 years.” The state of Utah wants to put “a dam on every river in the state,” and water agencies in Colorado are proposing large new diversions out of the Colorado River. In addition, Colorado yearns to retain every legal drop before its rivers cross the state’s boundaries.

As you watch the media focus for a while on river health, consider this trivia question: Where was the last major dam and river-destroying project in Colorado?

If you guessed it was on the Animas River, southwest of Durango, you’re right. The controversial Animas-La Plata Project erected a huge, new dam and reservoir, a pumping station to divert water out of the Animas River and the federal government did it all with virtually no mitigation to offset the impacts to the river.

Were elected officials outraged at this project? No, they celebrated it and named the reservoir Lake Nighthorse after former Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

If this plume of poisoned water moving downstream teaches us anything, maybe it ought to be this: All of our rivers are at risk so long as we continue to prevent them from running free.

Gary Wockner is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News. He directs two river protection organizations, Save The Poudre and Save The Colorado, and is based in Fort Collins.

Get to Know the Land You’re Destroying (or Saving)

It’s easy to disparage or destroy people, animals, plants or things when we know little about them. It’s a psychological thing. This phenomenon underlies lots of the more unpleasant activities in our world, like how we treat people who are ‘different’ than us, how we wage war on the living world in general, and the strategy many use in dealing with radicals; if we Demonize and Marginalize them, it’s easier to disparage and dismiss them, and to disrupt or destroy them. For example, we see this in how ranchers refer to Prairie Dogs as ‘pests’ – when Dogs are labelled as such, it’s easier to gas them, you know? After all, they destroy all that good ranch land, and dig holes that cattle and horses break their legs in, right? Right?

Of course, that’s all B.S. The larger issue is that when we cultivate familiarity with the world around us, we’re much less likely to wage war against it. In that vein, we introduce a ‘sometimes’ feature here to make you more familiar with aspects of the world you may know or care little about. And maybe you’ll be less likely to summarily dismiss or endanger that world.

Our first entry comes courtesy of The Jornada.

 

7 Things You Didn’t Know About Creosote Bush
Submitted by Johnny Ramirez on Thu, 2015-04-30 16:41

If you are familiar with the Chihuahuan Desert, you will recognize the creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) as ubiquitous. It is common throughout Western North America, and it’s becoming even more common. Creosote bush has a unique set of evolutionary adaptations that allows it to outcompete many other plants in its ecosystems, given the right opportunities.

Creosote Flowers

Creosote Bush Flowers

 

They only “breathe” in the mornings

Creosote BreathingRain is rare in the desert, and any plant has to be able to get as much of it as it can while losing as little of it as possible. The problem all plants face is that they must “breathe” in carbon dioxide through openings on the underside of their leaves called stomata, but doing so means they lose water. This becomes a big problem when it is especially hot and dry as it always is during the day in the desert. So the creosote bush only opens its stomata in the mornings when the humidity is relatively high and the loss of water is the lowest. It is during this time that creosote bush undergoes photosynthesis, and shuts it down when the sun rises higher. This is also why …

Creosote bush always faces southeast

SouthEast
Since the plant photosynthesizes only in the mornings when humidity is highest, it needs to maximize the amount of sunlight it receives during that time. Its branches and leaves grow in a shape meant to capture as much morning sunlight as possible. As the sun gets higher and the air drier, it will close its stomata and shut down its photosynthesis. While this may seem like not using the sunlight is wasted potential, it is in fact a smart move since it saves water. And in the desert it is always water, not sunlight that limits plant growth.

Creosote bush will grow in different shapes depending on what it needs

Coneshaped

HemisphericA cone shape allows creosote bush to channel rain down its stems so that the water goes deeper into the soil and the roots have more time to absorb it. It can also grow into a hemisphere, an upside down bowl shape that allows leaf litter and other organic material to collect beneath its branches. This creates an island of fertility that allows other plants and animals to live underneath, creating a rich soil that is full of nutrients for the creosote bush.

Creosote cultivates a microbial community on its branches

Microbes
On many creosote bushes you will see black areas on some branches. This is a microbial community of algae, fungi, and bacteria that in exchange for a place to live, gives the plant nutrients as rainwater flows over it and into the soil. It is from a combination of this and dust that has settled on its branches between storms that allows creosote bush to pick up 9 times as much phosphorus and 16 times as much nitrogen than is in regular rainwater. These nutrients are rare in the desert and give the plant a huge leg up over its competition.

People once used a compound derived from creosote to preserve food

NDGA
Nordihydroguaiaretic acid is a powerful antioxidant that the creosote bush produces for protection. When it was discovered in the 1930s, people would extract it from the plant and use it to keep food from spoiling. This practice ended in the 70s when the FDA discontinued its use in food, but recent research on the chemical has found some promise in its ability to reduce cancerous tumors in animals.

Its unique smell is the result of many compounds

The smell of creosote after a good rain is the result of many volatile oils, but mostly terpene (a compound found in pines), limonene (citrus), camphor (pines and rosemary), methanol (wood alcohol), and 2-undecanone (spices).

Fire keeps creosote bush in check

Creosote Road
The creosote bush thrives in the desert. It is so good at making efficient use of its limited resources that it will slowly overtake ecosystems like grasslands and turn them into creosote shrubland. Creosote has one weakness though, fire. Creosote bush grows slowly, and if grassland that it grows in catches fire when it is still small, it will die off while the grass grows back. Because of this, creosote bush’s natural habitat is in areas where grass has a difficult time growing. But practices like fire suppression, or overgrazing that limits how much fuel there is for fire, allows the creosote bush to take over.

Any plant you see growing is there because it is the successful result of millions of years of evolution. It has encountered and adapted to more environmental challenges than you could ever imagine. The plants of the Chihuahuan Desert where The Jornada Experimental Range is located, and where we do our research, are incredibly good at surviving a harsh desert environment. If you want to know more about how plants thrive in the desert, check out “5 things you didn’t know about Ocotillo”. Also check out some of our YouTube videos on “grasses and wildflowers of the Chihuahuan Desert.”

A special thanks to Walt Whitford for lending his expertise to this blog.

USDA-ARS the Jornada Experimental Range

Photo Credits:

Long Draw Fire Aftermath By Jeff Clark, Oregon BLM Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

Creosote Flowers “Resinous” By Anne Reeves Creative Commons CC BY-ND 2.0

Chemical Structure of Nordihydroguaiaretic Acid By Edgar181

All other photos by Johnny Ramirez

Cited Publications:

Mabry, T.J.; Hunziker, J.H.; Diffo, D.R., Jr. (1977) Creosote Bush: Biology and Chemistry of Larrea in New World Deserts. Institute of Ecology.

Whitford, Walt (2014) The Remarkable Creosote. Unpublished Book Chapter.

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