Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Aquiferealists vs. Aquinuts

The Lewiston Tribune has been runnning a series about water issues on the Palouse. What follows below is a compilation of quotes (Aquiferealists in blue, Aquinuts in red) from several articles that were published in the Sunday issue of the Tribune, along with my comments:

King Solomon vs. Science:

"It's a little scary," says Mark Solomon, a longtime water watchdog and current hydrology doctoral student at the University of Idaho. "There is a looming water crisis."

Even with state-of-the-art technology, no amount of scientific probing will ever provide total understanding of the groundwater supply on the Palouse, says a University of Idaho hydrology and water quality professor.

"There are geophysical tools that you can use," Fritz Fiedler says of equipment designed to collect underground data. "But they aren't very accurate. And they don't work well in deep systems like we have. The main aquifer on the Palouse, which is the Grand Ronde, is about 1,000 feet deep."

"There's always going to be uncertainty that we're going to have to manage around," Fiedler says. So while more scientific data is desirable, cooperation between user groups and agencies is much more critical at this point.

"I don't think there's a looming crisis," Fiedler says. "I really don't think we're about to run dry by any means. But in the future, maybe 15 to 20 years out there, it's much harder to tell."

"I'm not saying the decisions will be here next year. I don't think the situation is that dire at all," [Jan] Boll [director of the Univeristy of Idaho Waters of the West graduate program] says. "But it's a planning process that we all need. And that's what our process is trying to develop."

In the meantime, Boll says no crisis is imminent. In fact, he says, the aquifers may be much deeper than realized at this point.

Surface water is plentiful. Reservoirs could be built. Treated runoff could be injected into the aquifers. The technology is even available to pump and pipe water from the major rivers to the south. While perhaps costly alternatives, Boll says the availability of water is more than adequate for the region.

One thing for certain, warns Boll, no amount of scientific investigation will ever provide enough answers to erase all questions about how much water is available. "The thing we need to come to grasp with is the uncertainty we will always have. There is always going to be uncertainty about how much water is left and how much we can keep pumping."
I think in this case I'll go with the professors over the "student." And since there is no way we will ever know how much water is left in the aquifer, it only seems logical to implement thoughtful conservation measures and develop economical alternatives versus the radical growth-killing solutions advocated by King Solomon and his Knights of the Water Table.

Larry Kirkland vs. Bill French

Larry Kirkland, former PBAC executive secretary, counters that there is no shortage. "The water is here. It's just a question of how we can get it."

Enough precipitation, for example, falls on the Palouse to make the shortage debate moot, say Kirkland and other experts. They contend capturing runoff in reservoirs or injecting treated surface water into underground aquifers, while costly, would meet future demands.

Kirkland, after leaving PBAC and being able to observe the big picture, warns that fears about lack of water can be used as both political and legal levers. "Water can become sort of a spotted owl to establish what you want as far as social engineering."

The spotted owl became the focus of national attention decades ago when
conservation groups used the bird's endangered species status to block logging of old-growth forests.

The potential for alternative water sources aside, [Bill] French [of the Palouse Water Conservation Network] says there's something "obscene" about the current situation. "I just think it's ethically wrong to take a 20,000-year-old resource like pristine groundwater that got into the ground during the last ice age and dump it on lawns or flush it down toilets."
"Obscene? ""Ethically wrong?" Kirkland is right. The Aquinuts ARE comparing the "pristine 20,000 year old water" to a living creature like the spotted owl to block growth on the Palouse. Let's illuminate Mr. French about the water cycle, shall we?

There will never be any more freshwater on Earth than there is now. No new water is being made and water can’t escape from the Earth. The water we use is recycled over and over again. It is never "destroyed." It just changes states or moves somewhere else. So that "pristine" water that got into the Grande Ronde aquifer during the last ice age was on the Earth's surface for hundreds of millions of years in various forms (clouds, rain, snow, ice, rivers, oceans) before that. And when it gets to the surface again to water your lawn or flush your toilet, it will stay around for hundreds of millions of more years before going back into the ground, into the ocean, etc. Water is not a living creature that can die off and go extinct forever. That same water will be here long after we are dead and gone. Arguing over water on the Palouse is as silly as arguing over dirt would be. If we can't get water from the aquifer, we'll get it from somewhere else. As the scientists above stated, this is a region that has ample water supplies through rainfall, snowfall, and rivers.

Proof that the Aquinuts are all about anti-capitalist socialism and not water conservation (as if their rejection of any proposal to recharge the aquifer or build reservoirs isn't enough proof) comes from this April 2003 Moscow Co-Op newsletter (notice that Spokane attorney Rachael Paschal Osborn, who is leading the legal fight against the WSU golf course, was at the meeting being reported on:)
...the idea that a community can only thrive with unlimited growth and development is a notion that must disappear, hopefully before the water does.

Post-World War II economy was based on a planned scheme for consumerism—and it worked. The economy grew, people consumed and planned obsolescence became an accepted norm. We become anxious when we consider voluntary reductions of any type. But, we must begin to imagine a “restorative economy” where having less is truly more satisfying, more interesting, and of course, more secure.

In the relatively near future, we must achieve a balance between what we are consuming and the capacity of the earth’s ecosystems to provide, according to author and businessman Paul Hawken. “We need to create an economy… that is not an either/or argument, but a means to create the best life for the greatest number of people precisely because we do not know the eventual outcome or impact of our current industrial practices. In other words, we need an economy based on more humility.”
Bill French vs. Michael Echanove
Not that PBAC would curb pumping if it could, suggests French, who likens the pumping entities to foxes guarding the henhouse. "I think the whole concept of PBAC is flawed. I think PBAC was mostly formed to have the appearance of doing something. And it kind of fooled the state of Idaho into not stepping in to regulate water."

"The state of Idaho has a couple of designations they can put on a groundwater basin," explains French. His and other groups, in fact, waded in amid the Naylor flap to petition the Idaho Department of Water Resources to intercede and regulate pumping from both the Wanapum and Grand Ronde.

After another round of hearings, the state backed away in favor of a local solution. That solution, suggested by the IDWR, was to form an 11-member citizens group to offer advice to the 19 representatives of PBAC. The group, says French, had the potential to be a watchdog over PBAC. "But in practice, it (the citizens group) has just become a mirror image of PBAC. It's a group of people who get together once a month and talk about stuff but they never do anything."

Michael Echanove, chairman of the citizens group as well as mayor of Palouse, disagrees with French's assessment of PBAC.

More regulatory authority, however, isn't needed, Echanove says. What's needed is more scientific data about just how big and how full or empty the aquifers really are. "Until we get that data, it's just a bunch of people with opinions. And you've got universities that have their own projects. You've got counties that have their projects. I mean, I could make a career just thinking about it."

The politics of Palouse water, Echanove says, are perhaps best illustrated by the differing opinions of his mayoral counterparts in Pullman and Moscow.

"Remember, you've got to get elected. And you've got to be able to lead and you've got to be able to look at the big picture, as such, and you can't come in with one opinion and run with it, because you're not going to get anywhere."
Yes, the Aquinuts would love nothing more than to have an unelected body of envirocrats, who would of course have to buy into the idea of "looming water crisis," to beat back every new big-box store, golf course, highway, or housing project on the Palouse.

The fact remains that PBAC HAS been successful, greatly reducing water usage on the Palouse since 1992 (8.3% less than was pumped in 2006 than in 1992) through VOLUNTARY guidelines.

Nancy Chaney vs. Glenn Johnson

Moscow Mayor Nancy Chaney was accused of social engineering when she leaped across the state line into Washington to legally challenge water rights for development of the proposed Hawkins Companies shopping center.

She defends her actions as an attempt to ensure water "sustainability."

"I come from a scientific background," says Chaney, who holds a master's degree in environmental science. "I get the scientific principle. I understand objectivity. But having entered the realm of politics, I've sort of straddled that line."

Ultimately, newly elected members of the Moscow City Council usurped Chaney's political power by agreeing to not just abandon the legal appeals, but to actually supply water to Hawkins.

Chaney laments that while the politics of water continue to vacillate, the groundwater supply will continue to drop. "It's certainly political. I think we should be informed by science, but there are competing interests. So we're sort of waiting out a cost-benefit analysis. We're looking at long-term and short-term values and things we can afford to gamble with and things we cannot afford. Unfortunately, political cycles don't coincide with natural resource needs."

Eight miles away in Pullman, Mayor Glenn Johnson declines comment on Chaney's tactics. "To be honest with you, I'm leaving that one alone."

As for the politics of water on the Washington side of the border, Johnson suggests they're quite different than in Idaho, and especially Moscow. "What we're trying to do is, we're not going to discourage growth over here. We're telling everybody that 'Yes, we know we have adequate water supplies, we've had plenty of research on that. But at the same time, we want you to conserve. We want to make sure you watch your use of water.' So that's the message."
Chaney comes from a "scientific background?" Oh, brother. She's a nurse, for God's sake. The only line she is straddling is the line between San Francisco hippie and all-out barking moonbat. The Queen's "realm of politics" will be over next year. meanwhile, Mayor Johnson's pragmatic political views have earened him two unopposed terms in office.

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