Next to using the Starship Enterprise to beam an iceberg to California, “Star Trek” actor and Priceline spokesman William Shatner’s proposal to crowdsource $30 billion to build a water pipeline along I-5 from Washington to California is just a tad less loopy.
Even loopier is Shatner’s assumption that such a pipeline would be doing us a favor because “there’s too much water” in Seattle, as he told Yahoo! Tech’s David Pogue.
History is not on Shatner’s side. His idea was actually proposed 50 years ago, as SeattlePI.com’s Joel Connelly wrote Tuesday. Federal and California officials proposed channeling water from the Columbia River or other Northwest rivers to the Golden State, until Everett’s Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson threw cold water on the plan by inserting a rider into legislation that would have required any feasibility studies sought by the federal Bureau of Reclamation to have the approval of Congress before advancing.
But credit Shatner with at least raising the issue.
California, without question, is suffering under one its most severe droughts on record. But the same weather system, a “ridiculously resilient” ridge of high pressure, that has significantly contributed to drought in the Southwest U.S. has also brought record low snowpacks this winter to Washington state. A report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service found that statewide snowpack is only 22 percent of normal, much lower than the previous record in 2005 of 33 percent of normal. A spokesman for the service said 74 percent of its snow-monitoring sites reported record snowpack lows.
California Gov. Jerry Brown has instituted mandatory water-saving measures there. And Washington will have to take its own steps to confront the lower flow we will likely see in state rivers this year. Gov. Jay Inslee has reconvened the state’s committee on drought and water supply and has declared a drought emergency for 24 river basins, including the Stillaguamish and Skagit rivers in Snohomish County. A full supply of water is expected for those with senior water rights in the state, but those with junior water rights may have only a 54 percent supply.
Northwest meteorologist Cliff Mass has said he doesn’t believe this winter’s record low snowpack is a result of human-caused climate change. But Mass has said that the Northwest can expect more winters like this with similar precipitation but less snow as climate change advances in the decades to come.
Grand schemes are unlikely to solve our water woes. Each state, down to each watershed, will have to find ways to live within its means in terms of water. California, for starters, can seek to stop Nestle from bottling water from springs, using permits that expired more than 20 years ago.
With apologies to the starship captain, Washington will need every drop of rain and every flake of snow as we seek to balance an increasingly precious resource among demands for agriculture, salmon, hydropower and what comes out of our taps.