COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | DANIEL COFFEY

Birdbaths and watery political bloodbaths

Genesis 1:26: “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.’”

For years, in exercising my version of dominion, I have placed a birdbath, a shallow ceramic bowl, in a cat-free zone and supplied it with water for the neighborhood birds. I have feathered customers who arrive daily for water. Call it free trade. We trade agua for singsong. It’s a good deal. There is nothing so cheerful as a group of birds bathing in peace.

Consider the birdbath, oasis in the urban desert set within the greater desert in which we all live. It’s a place where water is available for the birds that twitter, chatter and sing. Imagine: the real twitter!

As our drought response becomes more focused on every little drop, the wild world that lives around us has fewer and fewer sources of water, clean or otherwise. Our watery excesses are often their only real supply line, in some instances, their main lifeline. In many ways, the invisible wild world that surrounds us relies heavily upon our wasteful landscaping overflows, ponds and fountains for their most basic water supplies.

I am not certain, but the birds seem grateful for a reliable, predictable and well-established source of water, especially where many of the more traditional urban sources are suddenly drying up and shutting down in their moment of greatest need.

Some observe that this drought is the most intense in 1,000 years, but make no mistake, the drought we are now experiencing will likely persist and intensify as global warming continues, and it is incumbent upon us to sustain water sources for the wild world available as part of the built environment over which we now exercise dominion.

Such an effort takes relatively little and it means everything to the animals that surround us. Personally, I prefer my “pets” wild and running free, entirely able to come and go. Please consider placing a water source in service to the wild world. A little fresh water well placed goes a long way.

Turning to the less peaceful aspects of water, in recent years California’s water supply issues have become a partisan political football, where party politics can play a bigger role.

It takes no imagination at all to see the increasing potential for political finger pointing where Republicans complain that a California controlled by Democrats is unable to solve the most basic problems using the free market. You know: water supplies, poverty and the national debt.

The long-running battle between a California Republican Party in the legislative minority and various forces within the Democratic Party dominating the state may see a change in coming years. Water politics is a good start.

Surely Republicans can find a way to overtly criticize efforts of the Democrats to impose water conservation measures. Certainly the Democrats will offer a plethora of legitimate opportunities.

For example, in the recent past San Diego wisely invested in Imperial County water transfers, gaining a more diverse water source by tapping into water transferred from agricultural sources to urban supplies.

Are those transfers subject to the same restrictions as other water supplies under Gov. Jerry Brown’s new requirements? Probably. Is it fair? Probably not!

On April 9, the San Diego County Water Authority publicly observed that Brown’s “proposed framework punishes those who have invested in new supplies while rewarding those who have not.

The state’s current approach does not give any credit to agencies or regions that have made substantial investments in water supply reliability, thus eliminating the incentive to increase regional self-reliance as called for in the governor’s California’s Water Action Plan.

“For more than two decades, the San Diego region has diversified its water supplies at a substantial cost through a historic water conservation-and-transfer agreement with Imperial Valley for independent Colorado River supplies and construction of the Carlsbad Desalination Project.”

This has all the earmarks of a righteous political cause, one that has potential party politics written all over it, even as it opens the door for more privatized water supplies controlled by private interests, transfers of farming water rights to urban centers and a carve-out water economy that almost sounds meritorious.

It’s worth noting that the current effort by very large and wealthy interests to acquire vast amounts of senior water rights will certainly be affected by the precedent set in this coming battle. If they can supply water at premium prices that are not subject to overall drought restrictions, there will be profit from misery, sure as shooting.


Coffey is an attorney based in San Diego. He can be reached at daniel.coffey@sddt.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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