July 22, 2008

Tomgram: Elizabeth de la Vega, Those Hard Rains Are Gonna Fall

Call it a bizarre water season or think of it as our future. In the Midwest, 500-year level floods. That means hydrologists believe that "a flood of this magnitude has a 0.2 percent chance (1 in 500) of happening in a given year in a specific location." Of course, the last 500-year Midwestern floods happened only an uncomfortable 15 years ago in 1993. In the Southwest and Southeast, there have been droughts that, in the last year, have threatened to outrun recorded history, and then, of course, there's California. That state has received a "record lack of rainfall" -- state capital Sacramento got only 0.17 of an inch of rain this spring, thoroughly wiping out the previous record set in 1934. The result, of course, has left the state burning up well before its normal fire season officially begins about now.

You might think that Mother Nature, acting like some vengeful goddess, was sending a message to our legislators, but, as former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega points out below, don't count on them paying much attention. We seem, in short, to be up a swollen creek without a paddle. (Or is it a dry gulch with lots of tinder and too many matches?) De la Vega "indicted" George W. Bush at this site back in November 2006 and wrote the popular book -- a TomDispatch spinoff -- United States v. George W. Bush et al.. She now returns focused on a remarkably crucial long-term problem -- water -- and a remarkably consistent, do-nothing Congress. Tom

Our National Water Policy...

Oh, Wait, We Don't Have One
By Elizabeth de la Vega

"Lisa, the whole reason we have elected officials is so we don't have to think all the time. Just like that rainforest scare a few years back. Our officials saw there was a problem and they fixed it, didn't they?" -- Homer Simpson

On June 24, 2008, Louie and I curled up on the couch to watch seven of the nation's foremost water resources experts testify before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

This was a new experience for us. For my part, the issue to be addressed -- "Comprehensive Watershed Management Planning" -- was certainly a change of pace from the subjects I ordinarily follow in Judiciary and Intelligence Committee hearings. I wasn't even entirely sure what a "watershed" was. I knew that, in a metaphorical sense, the word referred to a turning point, but I was a bit fuzzy about its meaning in the world of hydrology. (It's the term used to describe "all land and water areas that drain toward a river or lake.")

What was strange from Louie's point of view was not the topic of the day, but that we were stuck in the house. Usually at that hour, we'd be working in the backyard, where he can better leverage his skill set, which includes chasing squirrels, digging up tomato plants, eating wicker patio chairs, etc. On this particular afternoon, however, the typically cornflower-blue San Jose sky was the color of wet cement, and thick soot was charging down from the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. Sitting outside would have been about as pleasant as relaxing in a large ashtray.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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