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Dreaming of Barbecued Salmon? Save Water for Its Return
Will you eat salmon at your Fourth of July barbecue? How much will you pay for it? Will you even be able to find it?
There is no salmon fishing season this year, so there may be no wild salmon for your party. If you think that's bad, imagine how it feels to the commercial fishermen, fishing guides, seafood shops and all the local businesses that rely on salmon for their livelihood.
As you slap farm-raised tilapia on your grill Friday, give a thought to our rivers.
The disappearance of wild salmon has many causes, and most of them relate to rivers. This year the salmon population in the Sacramento River collapsed. In previous seasons, fishing was restricted because there were so few salmon in the Klamath River. And don't even think about the choked-off San Joaquin River.
Rivers have been dammed, diverted and drained for so long and so often, there is barely a free-flowing river left in California. The 1,400 large dams blocking our rivers did amazing things for the state, but 100 years of dam-building has taken its toll.
We have lost 95 percent of our salmon and steelhead habitat. We have destroyed 90 percent of our river environment. Toxic algae blooms in stagnant reservoirs. Once-mighty rivers sputter to a dry end.
We have learned a few lessons. We have preserved a small portion -- 1 percent -- of our rivers for future generations, and two bills working through Congress would set aside more. We operate our dams to better simulate natural river flows that salmon and other species rely on.
Unfortunately, we threaten to repeat our mistakes. In the midst of this drought, developers and corporate agribusiness want us to build even more dams. They couldn't generate support among everyday Californians, so they are looking for help from powerful folks.
They have asked Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to support a proposal for the November ballot to build more dams. They have the ear of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who continues to push for dams that cost billions of dollars each, even though no one has figured out who would get the water or how they'd pay for it.
Dams were modern marvels 100 years ago. Today they are low-tech answers to problems that require innovation and common sense. Groups like the California Clean Tech Open, based in Palo Alto, are encouraging new ideas on smart water use for the future. With the technology we already have, we can reduce our water use and take less out of our rivers.
California has cut its per capita water use by 50 percent over the past 40 years, even as the state has boomed. There's room to save even more. We can use rainwater and recycle our wastewater. South Bay Water Recycling already distributes about 15 million gallons of recycled water each summer month.
If we use less water at home, at work and in our fields, we can take less out of our rivers and the delta. If we do that, maybe the salmon can make a comeback.
So as you clean those remnants of tilapia off your grill, turn your tap off between scrubbings. Then maybe you'll be cleaning wild salmon off your grill next year.
Tony Bogar works with Friends of the River, California's statewide river conservation group.
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