Category Archives: Ecology

The Blue Cut Fire and the Wheel of Mutability

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Blue Cut Fire and the Wheel of Mutability

The most recent post centered on water, but the pre-Socratic philosophers must be afoot in Southern California, because fire is the chief element at work right now. The Blue Cut fire in San Bernardino County has burned over 35,000 acres, at last report, which would roughly be equivalent to an area seven times the size of the City of Santa Monica. When I first learned of the outbreak and spread of this conflagration, I immediately thought of the proximity of the Love Art Gallery to the heat perimeter. According to a message from Hye Sook Park, the Love Art Gallery is still intact. From looking at maps posted on-line, however, it appears that the fire came within less than five miles, if not closer, to the gallery.

If one is an artist and writer in Southern California, it is difficult not to have had the annual fire season affect some part of one’s life. Those who have been following my blog since its inception will recollect that a major fire broke out in the mountains around Idyllwild less than six months after my first post; the town had to be evacuated, and almost everybody left, except for the brave owner of Gary’s Deli, who kept his place open in order to feed the fire crews on the front line.

Idyllwild is typical of many mountain communities in Southern California in being extremely vulnerable; the longer the area goes without a fire, the more devastating the embarkation is likely to be, once ignited. The close calls come with a price: Idyllwild still mourns the death of firefighter Captain Mark Loutzenhiser, in the Esperanza fire of October, 2006.

In thinking back, in fact, of the decade during which Cecilia Woloch ran the Idyllwild Poetry Festival, it is quite remarkable that not once did that festival get interrupted by a mandatory evacuation. Not every arts organization has been as lucky. Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, just outside of Temecula, had all of its venerable cabins burnt down in a fire in the late spring of 2004. It has been partially rebuilt, but nothing can replace the inspiring quaintness of the original setting, which I was fortunate enough to spend a couple months at during the winter of 1997.

And fire affects individual artists: perhaps fire spared the Love Art Gallery because it had already helped itself to enough of the art produced by one of its exhibitors. One thing I did not mention in my review of Hye Sook Park’s show at the Love Art Gallery (see “The Fall of St. Paula,” April 13, 2015) was that she had lost an immense amount of work in a studio fire about four years ago. The storage shed that contained dozens of her canvases somehow caught on fire and destroyed years of work. I am grateful to learn of the survival of the Love Art Gallery and look forward to seeing more of Hye Sook Park’s new paintings, which affirm the work yet to be done as always already being made vivid by the indestructibility of the joy of creation.

For those who want to visit:
Love Art Studio
15551 Cajon Blvd.
San Bernardino, CA 92407
(909) 576-5773

The Governance of Drought

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Governance of Drought: California, the Illusion of Plenitude, and the Presidential Election

The University of California, Davis maintains a website on which one can track the levels of water in California’s reservoir system. You can reach the most pertinent graph by scrolling down and noticing a rectangle on the right hand side marked “Reservoir Conditions.”

http://drought.ucdavis.edu
http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cdecapp/resapp/getResGraphsMain.action

To say the portion of each reservoir’s rectangle that was filled in with blue was on the low side, back in February, 2016, is to understate the emergency that California faced after five years of harrowing drought. February itself had not brought predicted rains; instead, record heat had punished Southern California, and it appeared as if further rationing might be in store. For the record, here are reservoir levels on February 18: Shasta was only at 57% of capacity; Lake Oroville at 49 percent of capacity; Folsom at 64 percent of capacity, and Trinity at 33% of capacity. These levels, as a whole, were a full 25 percent below the historical average.

Fortunately, March brought enough substantial rainfall that the reservoirs returned to adequate levels to draw upon during this summer. The aquifers of the Central Valley, however, remain seriously depleted, and complete recovery is unlikely at any time in the foreseeable future. As is well known, the reservoirs depend to a great extent not upon direct rainfall, but upon the flow of water from snowmelt in the mountains. It wasn’t until the first couple days of May, therefore, that the largest reservoirs topped off at the highest levels in quite some time:
Shasta Reservoir was at 93 percent of capacity;
Lake Oroville was at 96 percent of capacity;
Folsom Lake was at 86 percent of capacity;
Trinity Lake was at only 58 percent of capacity, however.

In the three and a half months since that high water mark, these four reservoirs have been drained at a fairly steady rate. As of midnight, August 15, here are the capacity levels of the above quartet:
Shasta: 73%
Lake Oroville – 58%
Folsom Lake – 39%
Trinity – 45%

As one can see, Lake Oroville has had its contents put to work at a rate that bespeaks an unwarranted confidence in the winter to come; or should I say, the winters to come. It is unlikely that the storms we will have this coming winter will be even half as generous as the past winter. How is it then that Lake Oroville can plummet with so little concern about replenishment?

(I would insert an “update” note into this post, at 2:41 p.m. The Los Angeles Times, about a half-hour after I posted this blog entry, published an article by Matt Stevens about the lifting of water restrictions: http://fw.to/mh5PFyZ)

I would note that a trio of much smaller reservoirs further south along the Sierra Nevada, and more directly in line with the Central Valley’s pipelines, remains at more or less the same levels as they achieved in late spring, so obviously they are being held in reserve, should the ferocity of the drought prove to be planning a counter-attack on this illusion of plenitude during the coming winter.

In devouring the water at Lake Oroville this summer, one wonders if the people in charge realize that we still have at least two and a half months to go before we get the first storms of the 2016-2017 rainy season. That is, of course, if such storms actually show up. The past five years might be simply a foretaste of a challenging century in this nation’s most populous state.

One question relevant to the current presidential campaign involves these reservoirs, in fact. Hillary Clinton has spoken of an unprecedented investment in the nation’s infrastructure. Water is the crucial component of the Western half of the United States, and if Clinton wants to increase confidence in her ability to manage the coming water crisis, then it would behoove her to post some specific agenda plans on her website. I understand why it is unlikely that she (or VP nominee Kaine) will campaign much in person in California. That does not excuse not having already met with Governor Brown and other governors of the Western states and not having that dialogue’s outcome posted for public comment.

This leads me to today’s suggestion. What is needed at this point is not more debates between the presidential candidates, but a public meeting, at least three hours in length, at which each presidential candidate is in charge of a group of governors (no less than three, no more than five) discussing a major environmental issue and the direction that regulations should move in. It is time for the water levels of the reservoirs that are on display at the UC Davis website to stop being treated like polls of candidate preferences. First up, and then down, and let’s hope they rise again. Let the reality of ground level conditions be addressed in a thoughtful manner by those who aspire to determine the quality of our lives and of the environments we leave to our progeny. No more vague proposals about infrastructure, in other words!

Though I doubt that my suggestion will be enacted, I would suggest that if such a publicly broadcast meeting did take place, people would see that Hillary Clinton is the most qualified presidential candidate to be at a conference table in a meeting with oil company executives who want to increase fracking, alongside environmental representatives who are sitting to the other side of Governor Brown’s elbow. This is a dialogue, based on a grasp of ecological imperatives and acquisitive economics, that the American people deserve to hear. Please, we don’t need more rallies and fund raisers, but instead deserve the chance to see actual portrayals of governance. Yes, it would be make-believe, but no more make-believe than the promises we are asked to endorse with our votes.