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Taking water for granted not such a good idea

October 18, 2002

CHASING DOWN THE MUSE

"It was as though I could hear the sound rain begins to make in a

country where it is not going to come for a long time."

-- BARRY LOPEZ, RIVER NOTES

Drought. Even the word sounds dry. Images of shriveled shrubs,

parched lands and dying trees fill my imagination, only to be

replaced by reality as I hike deep into our wilderness park.

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The earth crunches in pocked places, breaking apart under the

weight of my boots. Dust pillows around my feet. Each step flings

particles into the air. Thistle flowers -- dry golden threads -- spin

and toss on sea-blown breezes. These are the dog days. The days of

longing for rains that have yet to come.

Southern California's rainy season officially begins Nov. 15, but

arguments abound about when and how much precipitation will actually

fall. First, the warm days of autumn arrive, and then the expectation

of dreaded Santa Ana winds. Except for our coastal fog, dry will

continue to be the menu of the day.

In China, enormous dust storms blanket and darken the skies of

Beijing, blown from over-grazed and drought-plagued slopes. Pumping

water from shallow wells has been replaced by sucking from their deep

aquifers water that cannot be replenished.

In the Klamath Basin, 30,000 salmon died in the last four weeks,

the result of a bacterial infection from overly-warm and shallow

waters, caused by water storage for farmers. Raging forest fires have

run rampant through our own moisture-starved western states.

Drought, as defined, is a normal, recurring feature of climate. It

occurs almost everywhere, although its features vary from region to

region. In the most general sense, drought originates from a lack of

precipitation for a long period of time, resulting in a water

shortage for some activity, group or environmental sector.

There are three levels of drought: meteorological, agricultural

and hydrological.

Meteorological drought relates to our own personal experience,

i.e., lack of precipitation for a long time .

Agricultural drought produces soil water deficiencies, reduced

yields and stress on plants. Extreme manifestations include dust bowl

conditions and crop failures.

Hydrological drought, or reduced inflows to reservoirs, lakes and

ponds, affects wetlands and wildlife habitats, and the overall

long-term viability of storage systems, both above and underground.

This third level has economic, social and environmental effects.

Who gets what water and when? A pair of red-tailed hawks soars

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