Saturday, April 5, 2014

Of tumblers and temblors

California is in the throes of a drought. What do you suppose is the economic impact of the latest prolonged water crisis? In the billions, without a doubt.

Consider the forced fallowing of farmland. What will that do to what Californians pay to put food on the table? Tourism is likely to be crimped in some areas. Real estate people are already moaning about the prospect of rezoning for desert landscaping to replace lush green lawns.

And what of health costs that result from exposure to certain particulates released into the air we breathe as a result of highly arid conditions? For example, a high asthma rate afflicts Imperial County as a result of the Salton Sea's evaporation, exposing lake bottom particulates.

San Diego County draws about 25 percent of its water from Imperial County, which in turn draws all its water from the drought-stricken Colorado River.

And the Golden State's population isn't getting any smaller. So a drought that was not so bad two decades ago becomes far more problematic in 2014.

Gov. Brown's water crisis task force is holding meetings around the state, which is to the good.

But it seems obvious that, among other water measures, the idea of more reservoirs makes sense. A problem is that reservoirs can throw wetlands ecology off-balance, arousing resistance from environmental groups.

That said, from a purely economic perspective, the claim that $10 billion is too much money for new or expanded reservoirs doesn't really hold. Sure, no one wants to see pork barrel waste. But $10 billion is small change by comparison with the probable economic impact of failure to take action to store water from good seasons for use during dry spells.

Republicans ignored a call by West Coast Democrats to seek $16.1 million in federal aid to establish a "heads up" earthquake warning grid, according to Richard Simon of the Los Angeles Times.

Rep. Adam Schiff, a Burbank Democrat, is quoted: "Even a few seconds of warning before the next Big One will allow people to seek cover, automatically slow or stop trains, pause surgeries and more -- and the benefits of this small investment now will be paid back many times over after the first damaging quake."

Warnings would arrive by phone, radio and TV, Simon wrote.

Seismic warning systems deployed in Mexico and Japan show that "this is a proven technology,"
William Leith, a senior adviser on geologic and seismic hazards for the U.S. Geological Survey, told the Times.

But the fight over high deficit spending in Washington means that such funding may be off the table. Yet, the Constitution provides a remedy: An interstate compact, which can be established by states straddling the quake-prone region where tectonic plates collide.

Surely, California, Oregon, Washington State and Alaska should do whatever is necessary to protect their populations. The fact that a killer quake has not rocked the West in a while is no excuse for not deploying the relatively inexpensive warning technology.

1 comment:

  1. A friend emailed me to say that she thought California has too many vineyards sucking up water supplies.