Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Water

The Supreme Court and the slaughterhouse

Pigs
Could Southern California Republican congressman Elton Gallegly please step in, and make one of his last acts in Congress a humane one –- one more time?

The Supreme Court just threw out a California law, saying the state overstepped its constitutional authority when it ordered changes in how slaughterhouses euthanize pigs and cows and goats who can't walk into the slaughterhouse chute.

It’s a complicated matter, and the justices ruled unanimously on the constitutional question that state law can’t be stricter than federal law in some matters. They didn’t rule on the humane issues or food safety questions, two of the matters that prompted California’s law. The pork industry took California to court, and won.

The questions of possibly tainted meat from potentially ailing animals -– pigs, cows, goats -- getting into the food chain was one of the confluent forces in the California law; the other was about animal cruelty. The public was horrified at a humane group’s video of cows that couldn’t walk being prodded and forced into the slaughterhouse to feed the American appetite for cheap and plentiful meat.

Gallegly stepped in once before on an animal welfare issue. The Supreme Court had ruled that a law banning the sale of animal cruelty videos violated free speech rules.

That law had originated in a ban on "crush videos," showing little creatures getting stomped to death by women, which evidently feed some creepy niche sexual thrill.

Gallegly, who is retiring from Congress, became a hero to animal groups for crafting a new law, along with some of his colleagues, that met those constitutional requirements for banning those so-called crush videos.

President Obama signed the law. Justice Samuel Alito, in perhaps a rare moment of agreement with the president, had dissented in the Supreme Court animal-cruelty video case.

In his opinion, Alito quoted from a Humane Society brief in describing this cruelty porn.

Warning -– this is very rough reading, so stop right here if you can’t deal with it:

[A] kitten, secured to the ground, watches and shrieks in pain as a woman thrusts her high-heeled shoe into its body, slams her heel into the kitten's eye socket and mouth loudly fracturing its skull, and stomps repeatedly on the animal's head. The kitten hemorrhages blood, screams blindly in pain, and is ultimately left dead in a moist pile of blood-soaked hair and bone.

Alito also wrote of the "criminal conduct" in the dog-fighting videos that brought the case to the Supreme Court, saying, "The videos record the commissions of violent criminal acts, and it appears that these crimes are committed for the sole purpose of creating the videos."

Another law that also meets constitutional muster could address the slaughterhouse animal treatment issue. Beyond that, the Agriculture Department could be a lot more vigorous in pursuing this as a safety issue of "downer" animal meat in the public food supply.

The ultimate answer to any of these practices that occur in the course of slaughtering billions of animals, whether on family farms or by ritual killing techniques or in mega-slaughterhouses, is also perhaps the best chance of survival of our species too.

It’s a move toward a vegetarian diet. Meat protein generally consumes more land and water and energy than vegetable protein, and all of those -– land, water and energy -– are going to be scarcer and more expensive in the decades to come. 

Because we humans feel pretty helpless to do anything to change the world by our lonesomes, I once asked Jane Goodall what was the single thing that one individual could do to make the biggest impact on the planet and the prospect of human survival, and she said, "Stop eating meat."

Until we do, isn’t it the least we can do to treat with respect and consideration these animals we kill by the billions in order to feed ourselves?

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-- Patt Morrison

 Photo: Pigs in the food chain. Credit: Reuters

A 100% solution for L.A. City Hall's damaged lawn

L.A. City Hall's lawn
Is grass always greener?  When you're talking about L.A. City Hall's lawn, the answer is clearly no.

Right now, thanks to months of occupation by Occupy L.A. protesters, City Hall looks like a Hancock Park fixer-upper: A hard-scrabble lawn behind K-rails and chain-link fencing.

What's worse, although the city is weighing its options, the cheapest landscaping solution -- and therefore the most likely -- appears to be grass. Which is also the dumbest solution.

Grass comes from England.  It likes water. And -- despite all of the faux-Tudor mansions in some of our tonier neighborhoods -- L.A. isn't England.  But we do like water, so much so that we're willing to steal it and pipe it in from faraway lands.

It's not as if we don't know what to do.  Heck, way back in November, Emily Green, who writes the Dry Garden for The Times, outlined in an Op-Ed piece  an ecologically friendly plan to re-landscape City Hall. And she made this sensible argument for it:

It comes down to this: If homeowners must abandon gratuitous shows of lawn, City Hall should too. If homeowners must learn to tend and appreciate native plant gardens, so should City Hall -- and Rec and Parks.

She was equally blunt about the argument that tough budgetary times require the use of grass:

This insistence that we cling to a wasteful model because conservation is too expensive doesn't scan. Whatever hard times the city faces, the real deficit isn't money. It's skill. The inertia isn't budgetary. It's cultural.

Until Occupy L.A. smothered it last month, lawn remained around Los Angeles City Hall in part because that's what Rec and Parks knows how to tend.

Still, money is a problem. The cost differences are dramatic.  As The Times story Monday said:

The cost of planting native grasses could run from $5 to $7 a square foot, said Cassy Aoyagi, owner of FormLA Landscaping in Tujunga and president of the Theodore Payne Foundation. The park's lawns covered about 75,000 square feet.

Her estimate includes grading, mulching, retrofitting the irrigation system, and planting a grass like Carex pansa, which looks like traditional turf if it's mowed, she said.

Having more native plants and a completely new irrigation system could cost $8 to $12 a square foot, she estimated. Traditional turf would average about $3 a square foot, she said.

But I think there's a way out.  Call it the 100% solution.

First, labor costs.  Here, we turn to the Occupy folks -- the self-proclaimed 99%ers.  You camped there.  You ruined the yard.  Now you need to help fix it. 

You may not have money, but you obviously have time on your hands, and presumably you can use a shovel, or a rake, or you can carry a plant or two. (And, if we have to, we have the names of those arrested.  We know where you live.  Don't make us come and get you.)

Next, real costs, for plants and the like.  Here, we turn to the enemy of the 99%ers -- the 1%.  Show the Occupy folks they're wrong about you. How about a few bucks for some native grass? A new irrigation system? A different tree or two? 

You can even show up and turn a shovel, get your picture taken with the mayor and City Council.

Finally, there's the "other percenters."  Like the landscape people, who are full of advice.  Folks like those at the Theodore Payne Foundation and the California Native Plant Society.

Talk is cheap. Why not turn your advice into a real plan?  Draw it up, then hand it to the city -- gratis.  Offer your expertise to the city -– and the Occupiers -– in installing it all.

And you farmers market folks who haven't been able to use the lawn in months.  I know times are hard, but maybe you could find a way to contribute -– either money or labor?  You say business is down in the new location, and you really want to get back to City Hall?  Well, as they say, there's no free lunch.

So what do you say, L.A.?  Can I get a green thumbs-up?

ALSO:

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--Paul Whitefield

Photo: The city now has to decide whether and how to replace the once-lush lawn around City Hall, killed by months of protesters living there. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Something about 'fracking' smells funny

Louis Meeks with Wyoming water"Fracking" just can't catch a break.

First came wild speculation that hydraulic fracturing was to blame for the magnitude-5.6 earthquake and a swarm of aftershocks that hit Oklahoma in November.

Now -- and much more credibly -- the EPA says the controversial procedure used to extract natural gas from deep underground probably contaminated well water in Wyoming.

As The Times' reported Thursday:

The EPA's new draft report found dangerous amounts of benzene in a monitoring well near the town of Pavillion, in central Wyoming.

Of course, this is far from the final word on the issue:

The EPA is conducting a comprehensive study about the possible effect of "fracking" on water resources, but initial results are not expected until late 2012. As a result, the Pavillion report may not give either side in the fracking debate the conclusive answers they seek.

Still, you can expect the usual political suspects to start weighing in immediately, if not sooner.

The anti-EPA forces of the Republican Party will probably portray this as another job- and energy-independence-killing move by an agency the party’s presidential candidates want to do away with.

Environmentalists, already concerned about the Keystone XL pipeline, will add this to the list of threats to America’s water supply.

And President Obama will be caught in the middle as he attempts to navigate between the need for jobs and energy and protecting the environment.

Regardless of where you stand politically, though, you have to be concerned reading this from The Times’ story:

About a decade ago, people in Pavillion began noticing an odd smell and taste to their well water and new illnesses in livestock, said Deb Thomas, an organizer for the Powder River Basin Resources Council, a landowners group. The EPA began the study in 2009 after about 20 well owners asked the agency to study their groundwater.

"It smells like a cross between something dead and diesel fuel," Thomas said by phone from Wyoming. "It's a very chemical bad smell."

Sure, the U.S. needs jobs, and it needs energy.

But human beings need water to survive, and that water shouldn't taste like -- and certainly shouldn't contain -- diesel fuel.

So let's not get too sold on this fracking thing.

After all, we don't all want to end up like the folks near Pavillion -- who now get their water trucked in.

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--Paul Whitefield

Photo: Louis Meeks holds a jar filled with water from a contaminated well on his property near Pavillion, Wyo. Credit: Kerry Huller / Casper Star-Tribune / Sept. 10, 2009

After the winds: In the dark with Jane Austen

Power
I have been without light and heat and hot tap water for 36 hours now -– and it feels like 36 years.

I’m trying to be philosophical and regard this as a kind of time-travel, that I’m living like Jane Austen, or the Bronte Sisters.

I’ve learned how hard it is to do any fine work by candlelight. Embroidery? My hands would wind up looking like I’d been doing some heavy petting with a porcupine. Reading? What was that word again? Does the book's hero contemplate having an abscess, or an abbess? More props to Abe Lincoln if he was able to get through the Bible and Shakespeare by the fitful light of a fireplace. That explains why his eyes look so worn out in all the photographs.

A flashlight provides passable light, but it’s so confined that you have to move either the book or the flashlight as you read. And it’s no substitute for the beautiful bright glow of a compact fluorescent bulb. In sweeping up windstorm debris, I got a splinter in my thumb, and every night-time light source is too dim for me to excavate it.  

There is of course no radio, no TV, no Internet. No wonder well brought-up young ladies were taught to sing and play the piano: someone had to provide the entertainment of an evening.

Without a refrigerator and freezer, you can’t take for granted that your food is so easily maintained in edible condition. Cooking in such poor light is a nauseating thought. Maybe that’s why the big meal of the day was so often at midday, in the daylight, when you could see what you were cooking and eating, because Lord knows what condition it was in.

Hot water is suddenly so precious, so hard to come by, the immense luxury of having a whole tub of it to bathe in unimaginable; even a half-gallon of it for a sponge-down takes a long time to heat on the gas range.

I don’t think Abraham van Helsing or Buffy the Vampire Slayer ever welcomed the daylight as much as I have.

To Misses Austen and Bronte, I doff my mobcap to you. Like the 19th century equivalent of Ginger Rogers, doing everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in high heels, you did surpassing well.

As for Prospero’s "dark backward and abysm of time" -– he can have it.

By force of habit, I’m still walking around flicking on light switches as if they meant something. One of these days, again, they won’t. All I can do is to tell my fellow Californians that this is a dress rehearsal for the human islands the earthquake will create, when we find ourselves on our own.

These 36 hours and counting also make me admire all those Occupy L.A. people who did have warm beds and lighted rooms somewhere, and left them behind for as long as two months, to make their 99% points.

Still, they would have left a stronger odor of sanctity in their wake, rather than the whiff of the landfill, if they had departed City Hall lawn taking with them all of their trash and goods, rather than leave it for the city to clean up at civic expense.

Or the LAPD could simply have waited 24 hours, and the howling wind that’s scouring through L.A. would have effected the Occupy evacuation all by itself.

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Photo: Fallen power poles block Live Oak Avenue in Irwindale as crew scramble to fix the situation and put the power back on. Credit: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times

Let birds and butterflies occupy L.A.

Monarch Butterfly

The library closest to my house -- in a built-out village area -- planted a pot outside with several plants. Some of these were narrow-leaved milkweed, host plant for the monarch butterfly. And in fact, on the day I was visiting, about five of the butterfly's caterpillars were munching away on the leaves, spectacular with their white, black and yellow stripes. Their migration is even more spectacular.

So while Los Angeles bemoans the loss of the lawn outside City Hall to the Occupy L.A. protesters, I agree with Times staff writer Emily Green  that this is more an opportunity than a loss. But I would go a step further than she did. The city shouldn't just re-landscape with plants that save water; it should create a native-plant oasis in the middle of the city, one that might serve as a model for other civic green spaces.

Much of Southern California's native wilderness -- and the wildlife that likes to live there -- has been lost to construction. Yet development and nature don't have to live completely at odds with each other. Small spaces -- front lawns, side slopes -- can provide an ongoing patchwork of native plants that have a more significant impact than we realize.

After a years-long battle over a hotel planned for the Dana Point Headlands in south Orange County, the plot of land just jutting out toward the water -- a prime whale-spotting location -- was recently restored with indigenous vegetation, with a walkway weaving around it. It's a small space, less than 30 acres. Yet on my first trip there, I saw endangered California gnatcatchers and a cactus wren, sights I hadn't come across in decades of hiking throughout Southern California. Just for good measure, a roadrunner sped across the path. It doesn't take wildlife long to find prime habitat, even when it's small.

The space adjacent to City Hall could become a haven for birds and butterflies, if planted with the vegetation that draws them. Resting and viewing stations, dotted with signs, could provide an urban education on the natural landscape and encourage more Angelenos to visit and appreciate that landscape. If a pot of milkweed can be an eye-opening haven for nature, imagine what the former municipal lawn could accomplish.

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--Karin Klein 

Photo: Monarch butterfly. Credit: Stephen Osman / Los Angeles Times

Nebraskans -- and the rest of us -- can't afford Keystone XL

Keystone XL demonstration 

What happens to a red state when it faces a choice between black (gold) and green?

Why, it turns ... blue!

Times staff writer Kim Murphy's article Monday on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline detailed the clash between jobs and the environment that's taking place in the Midwest -- in this case, Nebraska.

Reporting from Atkinson, Murphy described the scene at a recent public gathering:

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline -- the subject of public hearings convened by the State Department last week along the route from Montana to Texas -- was alternately described as a plot by a foreign corporation to exploit America, a potentially perilous polluter of the nation's greatest freshwater resource, the answer to America's energy insecurity, a generator of the last great family-wage jobs and, oh yes, a dangerous new instigator of global warming.

But the most telling line from Murphy's story was this:

The hometown crowd was sympathetic -- their children will probably go down and apply for jobs too, if it comes to it -- but couldn't they build it, people kept wondering, somewhere else? Somewhere not so magical as the Sandhills?

Ah, yes. Isn't that always the catch?  We want jobs, we want oil, we want government out of our lives -- but we also don't want that nasty pipeline in our backyard. 

Can't you build it in Iowa?  Or Colorado?

Or California?  Yeah, out there where all those liberals are always mouthing off about the environment! Yes, let them have the pipeline, and let them open up their coast to offshore oil drilling. Don't they know America needs the oil?

Nebraska hasn't voted for a Democrat for president since 1964.  It's among the reddest of red states.  Rick Perry? You bet! Michele Bachmann? Sure. Anyone who hates the EPA?  Right on!

But build a pipeline through the state's sandy western half, home to a few thousand people and some cranes and the like? You can't do that -- it's precious. It's unique. It's, well, worth protecting.

And you know what? It is. It should be protected. It shouldn't be sacrificed on the altar of the almighty job-creation bandwagon.

But I wonder if the good people of Nebraska will remember, come election day, that neither Rick Perry, nor Mitt Romney, nor Herman Cain, nor any of the other Republican standard-bearers is on their side?

And neither are the Republicans in Congress, who hold a Democratic president's feet to the fire, trying to force him to choose jobs over the environment.

And that when you chant "Drill, baby, drill," that can mean that the drilling -- or the pipelines -- are in your backyard. 

So you want to protect the Sandhills? Good.

But the solution isn't to spoil someone else's land. It's to remember that if the price is too high for you, it's too high for all of us.

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Photo: Opponents and supporters of the Keystone XL oil pipeline project demonstrate near the state Capitol in Lincoln, Neb. Credit: Nati Harnik / Associated Press

California's water wars present difficult lifestyle choices [Blowback]

Silva Ranch

In his Blowback submission, John Sabo takes on both Victor Davis Hanson's Aug. 7 Op-Ed, "California's water wars," and Doug Obegi's Aug.10 response, "It isn't fish vs. farmers." Sabo is an associate professor in the School of Life Sciences and senior sustainability scientist at the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University. He was a visiting scholar at UC Santa Barbara for the past year.

If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy

 I agree with Doug Obegi's thesis that the California water war is not as simple as fish versus farmers, but the story is not as simple as the dollar value of salmon versus tomatoes either.  In either case, water shortage means jobs lost and the end of a way of life for families who have known that way of life for generations. The California water war is one symptom of a larger sustainability problem we face across the Southwestern United States: how to balance freshwater needs for farms, cities and ecosystems. Balancing these needs in a region that is already chronically water stressed will present some difficult lifestyle choices.

Rivers are the only renewable supply of freshwater in the Southwest, including California and six other states dependant on Colorado River water. These seven basin states appropriate the equivalent of 76% of the flow of all rivers in the Southwest, and many of them run dry.  Add to this climate change.  The freshwater in rivers is projected to decline by as much as 30% over the next 50 to 90 years.  Demand will also increase.  California's population is expected to reach 60 million by 2050, a 1.5-fold increase in 50 years.   

Thus, water authorities are in search of new or reused sources of water. Reclaimed water is certainly central to the solution in cities.  Half of all household use is sprinkled on the yard, and a sizable fraction of the other half is used to flush toilets.  Reclaimed water could be used instead of precious drinking water in these cases, reducing domestic demand by more than 50%.  Unfortunately, the infrastructure for reclaimed water is not widely available, and it is costly.

Tap water and even domestic water use is a small drop in the bucket.  Farms use 80% of the water consumed in the West, and more than half of this water reaches the crops via flood irrigation, which is inefficient but inexpensive. Some center pivot and most drip irrigation applications are up to 38% more efficient.  Conversion of all farmland under flood irrigation to a more efficient application would save 5.6-18.8 million acre feet, depending on the assumed volume of return flow that can be reused in flood irrigated farmland.  The low estimate is equivalent to 43% of the total withdrawals for all domestic, public and industrial use across the seven basin states in 2005. The high estimate is greater than all of these withdrawals and equivalent to more than half the volume of Lake Mead in water savings, every year. Not a trivial volume. 

Should we mandate farm efficiency measures?  Why don't we make farmers convert to more efficient irrigation technology to save water for cities and ecosystems? 

The answer is cost and lifestyle. Do you like to eat a baby green salad with heirloom tomatoes drizzled with organic olive oil, pistachio crusted salmon with an avocado aioli or sip a fine Pinot Noir?  I have a soft spot for all of these delicacies grown or harvested in the Golden State. But that prospect might be in jeopardy if farmers have to pay to upgrade their infrastructure.

That cost exceeds $18 billion. This is just the startup cost. This cost would likely be passed on to consumers at top eateries and farmers markets in terms of higher food prices. 

Question: What is the solution to this important problem? 

Answer: Tiered water pricing and increased water tariffs at home. 

We should expect to pay more for water in cities as they grow. This revenue should then be earmarked for financing startup costs for irrigation efficiency, reclaimed water systems and to buy back water for ecosystems. Call it what you like. The "T" word.  An environmental surcharge.  A farm subsidy. I like to think of it as a lifestyle choice. I like affordable, nutritious produce, and I like that it comes from a farm that is not too far away. Moreover, my water bill is much less than my grocery bill. So I would rather pay more for the water I use at home and see agriculture and salmon persist in the West than see my grocery bills soar while most of the West waters lawns with tap water.

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-- John Sabo

Photo: Workers for Wente Family Estates strip unwanted shoots from vines at Silva Ranch in Livermore, Calif. Credit: Jim Stevens / Contra Costa Times / MCT

California's water wars: It isn't fish vs. farmers [Blowback]

Water
Doug Obegi, staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco, responds to The Times' Aug. 7 Op-Ed article "California's water wars." If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy

Victor Davis Hanson doesn't seem to understand what most of us already know: California needs to be smarter about managing our limited water supplies so we can sustain our economy and our natural resources.  
 
California faces dry and wet cycles, and during the 2007-09 drought, water was scarce for farmers, cities and the environment. The drought -- not environmental protections -- was the cause of more than 75% of the reduction in water deliveries to agribusinesses during this period. Yet even with new environmental protections, more water was exported per year from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta during the recent drought than the last major drought (1987-92). 
 
In contrast, this year the state and federal water projects are on track to pump more water from the Delta than ever before, while adhering to environmental protections. When the rain gods smile on California, there is plenty to go around; when they do not, we all have to tighten our belts. 
 
Despite record water exports this year, a few water allocations will be 80% of maximum contract amounts. Even if we waived environmental protections for endangered salmon and other species, the water allocation for agribusinesses in the Central Valley's Westlands Water District would still be 80% this year.
 
The reality is that these water contracts promise more water than has ever been -- or could be -- delivered. Until 2000, the largest water user (the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 19 million Californians) didn't request all of the water it was entitled to under its contract. Now that everyone wants their full share, there's less for others. Still, there's enough water to sustain our economy and our environment.
 
Blaming environmentalists is easy, but it isn't accurate. We aren’t seeking to restore flows to pristine conditions, as Hanson writes. Rather, conservation and fishing interests are seeking balanced, scientifically sound solutions to restore natural flows to our rivers and the Delta while developing tools to expand the efficiency and reliability of our scarce water supplies.
 
We’re not seeking to end all water pumping from the Delta to the Central Valley and Southern California; the protections for endangered species in the Delta will allow the water projects to export as much water as they did on average from 1980-99. But these protections do prevent the unsustainable levels of water exports that occurred in the 2000s, when populations of salmon and native fisheries collapsed. 
 
We can sustain our economy with reduced Delta exports because, as the state's own Department of Water Resources recognizes, more than 5 million acre feet of new water supplies -- as much as we pump from the Delta on average -- are available each year through cost-effective investments in water efficiency, water recycling, improved groundwater management and capturing urban storm water.
 
Finally, even with these environmental protections in place, agribusiness is thriving. Despite the drought, farm revenues have reached record highs in the San Joaquin Valley in recent years, with near record crops of almonds and tomatoes. The salmon fishery has not fared as well. For the first time in state history, the fishery was completely closed in 2008 and 2009; it was open for a mere eight days in 2010, resulting in thousands of lost jobs up and down the coast. 
 
The choice facing California is not one of protecting the environment or protecting the economy -- protecting our fisheries and streams protects thousands of fishing jobs across California, the tackle shops and marinas that support fishermen, and the water quality that farmers in the Delta need to maintain their crops.   
 
California’s water supply is scarce most years. As in every other area of life, we need to learn to be smarter and use our resources more efficiently. Investing in local water resources will allow us to reduce our reliance on water exports from the Delta and ensure that there's enough water for farmers, cities, fishermen and the environment.

-- Doug Obegi

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Photo: Canals in the Westlands Water District in the Central Valley deliver water to Southern California. Credit: Russel A. Daniels / Associated Press

Victor David Hanson doesn’t seem to understand what most of us already know—California needs to be smarter about managing our limited water supplies so that we can sustain our economy and our natural resources.  

 

California faces dry and wet cycles, and during the 2007-2009 drought water was scarce for farmers, cities and the environment.  The drought – not environmental protections – was the cause of more than 75% of the reduction in water deliveries to agribusinesses during this period.  Yet even with new environmental protections, more water was exported per year from the Delta during the recent drought than the last major drought (1987-92). 

 

In contrast, this year the state and federal water projects are on track to pump more water from the Delta than ever before, while adhering to environmental protections.  When the rain gods smile on California, there is plenty to go around; when they do not, we all have to tighten our belts. 

 

Despite record water exports this year, a few water allocations will be 80% of maximum contract amounts – even if we waived environmental protections for endangered salmon and other species, the water allocation for agribusinesses in the Westlands Water District would still be 80% this year.

 

The reality is that these water contracts promise more water than has ever been – or could be – delivered.  Until 2000, the largest water user (the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 19 million Californians) didn’t request all of the water it was entitled to under its contract.  Now that everyone wants their full share, that means there’s less for others, but there’s still enough to sustain our economy and our environment.

 

Making environmentalists the bad guys is an easy target, but not an accurate one. We aren’t seeking to restore flows to pristine, Garden of Eden conditions. Rather, conservation and fishing interests are seeking balanced, scientifically-sound solutions to restore natural flows to our rivers and the Delta, while also developing tools to expand the efficiency and reliability of our scarce water supplies for all Californians. 

 

We’re not seeking to end all water pumping from the Delta; the protections for endangered species in the Bay-Delta will allow the water projects to export as much water as they did on average from 1980 to 1999.  But these protections do prevent the unsustainable levels of water exports that occurred in the 2000s, when populations of salmon and native fisheries collapsed. 

 

We can sustain our economy with reduced Delta exports because, as the state’s own Department of Water Resources recognizes, more than 5 million acre feet of new water supplies – as much as we pump from the Delta on average – are available each year through cost-effective investments in water-efficiency, water recycling, improved groundwater management and capturing urban stormwater before it picks up pollutants on our streets and contaminates coastal waters.

 

Finally, even with these environmental protections in place, agriculture is thriving.  Despite the drought, farm revenues have reached record highs in the San Joaquin Valley in recent years, with near record crops of almonds and tomatoes.  The salmon fishery has not fared as well.  For the first time in state history, the salmon fishery was completely closed in 2008 and 2009, and open for a mere eight days in 2010, resulting in thousands of lost jobs up and down the coast. 

 

The choice facing California is not one of protecting the environment or protecting the economy--protecting our fisheries and streams protects thousands of fishing jobs across California, the tackle shops and marinas that support fishermen, and the water quality that farmers in the Delta need to maintain their crops.   

 

California’s water supply is finite and is scarce most years.  As in every other area of life, we need to learn to be smarter and use our resources more efficiently.  Investing in local water resources (including water recycling, efficiency, stormwater and groundwater management) will allow us to reduce our reliance on water exports from the Delta and ensure that there’s enough water for farmers, cities, fishermen, and the environment.

Salmon or shark's fin: Are you sure you want to eat it? [Op-Art]

Shark's-fin-soup

Is our appetite worth the ocean’s ecosystem? Between genetically modified salmon that could pollute the gene pool of wild-salmon fisheries, which the editorial board weighed in on last week, and Jonathan Gold’s Sunday Op-Ed about banning shark’s fin, it’s been a question that’s hard to ignore. Here’s Gold explaining his position:

As important as shark's fin is to traditional Cantonese banquet cuisine, we have reached the point where some shark populations have been reduced to 10% of historical levels, and nearly a third of shark species are approaching the point of extinction.

We need sharks: As top-dog predators, they keep the ocean's ecosystems in balance. And we need to stop eating shark's fin, at least until shark populations have had a chance to recuperate. […]

But Chinese culinary culture has proved resilient over the centuries, as able to absorb such foreign ingredients as chiles and squashes as it has been to withstand the absence of sea turtle skirt and bear paw, whose preparation obsessed the earliest Chinese gourmets. There is no third way with shark's fin — we either stop eating it because we choose to preserve the species, or we stop eating it because soon there will be none left to eat.

Deputy design director Wes Bausmith illustrated the art for Gold’s Op-Ed, capturing the danger -- and risk -- of eating a delicacy at the cost of sharks’ extinction.

Never tried shark’s fin soup? Continue reading Gold’s piece, which describes the soup’s preparation and fin’s taste -- or lack thereof.  

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-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times

Helping famine-stricken Somalia: It's not as easy as sending food

Faminie in Africa

If only helping the people starving in Somalia were as simple as sending food. In a July 22 Op-Ed by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, he pleaded with readers:

That is why I reach out today: to focus global attention on this crisis, to sound the alarm and to call on the world's people to help Somalia in this moment of greatest need. To save the lives of the people at risk — the vast majority of them women and children — we need about $1.6 billion in aid. So far, international donors have given only half that amount. To turn the tide, to offer hope in the name of our common humanity, we must mobilize worldwide.

Of course, food is just part of the solution for a region afflicted by a severe drought, unrest and corruption. But we have to start somewhere, and there should be a sense of urgency surrounding this very basic need. Without food these people will die.

Still it’s possible to understand the instinct people might have to hold onto their money, especially after Tuesday’s anti-climactic debt deal and Thursday’s news about the Dow Jones industrials plunging 400 points. And then there’s the additional reservation about food possibly not making it to its intended location because of violent interventions by the terrorist organization Shabab, which controls much of Southern Somalia.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration did its partto help create an easier path for humanitarian aid groups to deliver food. Here’s what opinionators are saying must come next:

Hold leaders who don’t help accountable

Charles Kenny, Foreign Policy:

For all its horror, starvation is also one of the simpler forms of mortality to prevent -- it just takes food.  Drought, poor roads, poverty -- all are contributing factors to the risk of famine, but sustenance in the hands of the hungry is a pretty foolproof solution. As a result, famine deaths in the modern world are almost always the result of deliberate acts on the part of governing authorities. That is why widespread starvation is a crime against humanity and the leaders who abet it should be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Help increase agricultural productivity

Stewart M. Patrick, The Atlantic:

The causes of this emergency are complex, and the international effort to address the situation is well-intentioned, but the crisis demands a broader and dramatic reaction, which sadly, remains improbable. […]

Even if aid organizations could penetrate the areas held by al-Shabaab, food aid alone will not eliminate the underlying causes of the crisis mentioned above. Barring the construction of a well-functioning state by internal forces--which sadly appears unlikely given the past twenty years -- addressing the underlying causes would require long-term strategy from the international community. The 9,200-strong African Union peacekeeping force currently restricted to Mogadishu will not be able to provide political stability, and UN member states, including the United States show little appetite for a robust mission in the region. Still, the international community has the power to tailor food aid that doesn't disrupt local economies and increases agricultural productivity so farmers can save surpluses, through support for technological improvement like irrigation systems.

Establish a government that respects basic human rights

Washington Post editorial:

Notwithstanding the drought, much of this misery is man-made. Al-Shabab has driven out Western aid groups, which have not operated in southern Somalia since early 2010. It has waged perpetual war against the Somali government and U.N. peacekeeping forces. It has killed Western aid workers. According to a report in the New York Times, it has diverted water resources from poor farmers and imprisoned starving people trying to escape the country. […]

The only durable answer to Somalia’s famine is the establishment of a government that can control the entire country and that respects basic human rights. Sadly, there is little prospect of that. But the United States and other Western governments must do what they can to prevent mass starvation.

Foster peace and stability

EJ Hogendoorn and Ben Dalton, CNN’s Global Public Square

It’s no surprise that the crisis is much less serious in Somaliland and Puntland, autonomous regions in northern Somalia that have been relatively stable. Immediate, short-term food aid must be followed by longer-term efforts to promote stability and good governance. That means looking beyond the narrow focus of defeating Al-Shabaab. Given a corrupt and ineffective Transitional Federal Government, international donors should not focus exclusively on the central government in Mogadishu, but also support stable, responsive and accountable local authorities. Because of longstanding clan competition and mistrust, a decentralized form of government is much more appropriate in the current Somali environment.

Here's a look at the unrest and devastation in Somalia:

 

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-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: A child from southern Somalia eats a piece of bread inside a destroyed building where people from the south have camped out after fleeing prolonged drought in their region. Credit: Farah Abdi Warsameh / Associated Press / July 11, 2011

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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



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