Water, water everywhere

The patronizing tone of today's AP article on the world water summit is a bit hard to take: "Water is worth fighting for-- even to the death, activists holding an "alternate" forum outside the world water summit said Friday. That attitude might seem strange in developed countries, where water flows at the touch of a faucet. But it isn't nearly as accessible in the developing world."

There's some big problems with those opening lines. First, it shouldn't be "strange" to any U.S. reader of international news that water is a limited resource. Big dams have displaced hundreds of thousands of people everywhere from India to the Phillipines to Mexico. But second, we have plenty of water problems here in the so-called "developed" world. In fact, the development is a big part of the problem.

One of the dams that's causing the most trouble here in the U.S. is the dam on the Klamath River. The problem is dear to me because I grew up on the Salmon River, a tributary of the Klamath, and the salmon sure don't run there anymore. The Klamath is too shallow and sick now to sustain the fish. For the first time ever, the Department of Fish and Game is considering banning all salmon fishing along a large part of the California and Oregon coasts.

But it's not just the dam that's to blame, it's the Bush administration. In 2002, the Bush administration chose to ignore its own federal biologists and diverted more water from the Klamath River for farm irrigation. As estimated 70,000 fish died of disease and suffocation because of the low water and high temperatures that resulted. According to a 2003 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it was the worst die-off in history on the Klamath, and possibly the entire Pacific Coast.

According to a government press release, the Bush administration is sending the U.S. Undersecretary for Democracy (did you know we had one?) Paula Dobriansky to the world water forum. The press release says that the focus of the meeting is "local action," which the U.S. "strongly supports."

Maybe someone could suggest to Ms. Undersecretary that local action, and equitable water distribution, begins at home.


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