Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Turning the Desert into Pools of Water

In California, two thirds of the annual precipitation falls in the northern third of the state. Much of Southern California is desert terrain...For California to become inhabitable and productive in its entirety would require a statewide water system of heroic magnitude.
Kevin Starr, California (2005)

California's very existence is premised on epic liberties taken with water...
Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert (1986)

If we continue to go on with business as usual in the agricultural water sector, we will not have enough water to feed the expected 9 billion people on the planet in 2050.
The assertion of 700 scientists in their authoritative publication “The Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture”

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Amos 5:24

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:4

Here in Southern California, all the things we take for granted--authentic Mexican food restaurants with year-round guacamole, Laker repeats, surfing-and-then-snowboarding-on-the-same-day--would never be a reality if it weren't for the gross manipulation of our desert climate. We simply would not be able conjure up a water supply to survive a week without the major aqueduct projects and purifying plants that quench our thirst and keep our lawns green. To add insult to injury, even with higher-than-expected rainfall last winter, we are still in the midst of a 3 year+ drought that has turned conventional conversation to modest household conservation while our governor and state legislators pitch a $11 billion plan to borrow more to build more water projects (although Arnold recently terminated Proposition 18 until November 2012 due to current lack of support).

Yet with all the historical and contemporary analysis of the California Dream as the magical "hydraulic society" (Reisner), 80% of every drop of water in the Golden State is funneled into agriculture. In fact, 40% of California's water goes towards 4 crops (cotton, rice, alfalfa & grazing land) which make up 1% of California economy. The Pacific Institute's recent study proposes confidently that California's agriculture industry can supply food for the state (and the nation) and conserve billions of gallons of water annually: “Water savings achieved through conservation and efficiency improvements are just as effective as new, centralized water storage, and are often far less expensive."

However, big agribusiness continues to press for more water with taxpayer money. This state of affairs is propped up by a cycle of power and wealth through the farm lobby which keeps political leaders in office to insure subsidized water for the agriculture industry (and then back again). This circular flow status quo is mostly hidden from California citizens who surely respect farmers and feel naturally entitled to more water magic tricks from our political leaders.

Water presents an often overlooked challenge for disciples of Jesus. We are those who participate with God in the adventurous, sacrificial and painstaking redemption of the world. We carry on the legacy of both exodused Israel and inaugurated Jesus who trustingly and generously shared bread in the desert. This jubilee society is the model for a 21st century abundance mentality that looks out for the interests of everyone, especially the vulnerable and oppressed ones who cannot afford lawyers and lobbyists. As citizens of the upside-down kingdom, we "turn the desert into pools of waters, and the impassable land into streams of waters" (Isaiah 41:18).

Truly we are called to be stewards of God's creation. This must mean that we embrace simple living, conserving the little water that flows our way. But too many of the most sincere disciples among us stop at personal responsibility. Water highlights the complexity of structural injustice: politically, socially, economically and ecologically. We must unveil the vicious cycle of greed that leads those in charge to irrigate their own entitlement and privilege.

This week as we join our community of disciples at the Lord's Supper, let us raise the cup to a disciplined lifestyle of living for the interests of our neighbors: shorter showers, fewer car washes and smaller lawns. But as we offer the bread of Christ to every hungry heart, let us confront the powers making decisions on behalf of the already powerful: “no” to more water bonds that siphon more money in the budget from the most vulnerable, “no” to more subsidies to make almonds cheaper at the expense of the populace and “no” to more projects that drain fresh water from God's precious wildlife.

-Theological Autopilot

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