“Habitat as fuel”

Posted on | April 14, 2010 | No Comments

The phrase is James Deacon’s. The University of Nevada biologist used the equation during a 2007 interview to describe the relationship between Las Vegas and the desert ecosystems of the Mojave and Great Basin. It’s borrowed here because Deacon’s observation applies equally well to the impact of cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix on the Colorado River, lakes of the Eastern Sierra and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

On the face of it, the average city dweller in Los Angeles seems fine with water being drawn from wild places to create an emerald island of lawn and ficus trees. It’s almost certainly a case of ignorance as bliss. At a wild guess, one in 500,000 Angelenos may be aware that our major water wholesaler is suing the federal Interior and Commerce departments, with our money and in our name no less, in order to upend Endangered Species Act protection for trout, salmon and sturgeon in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta (the better that we may grow lawn, cut it and throw it away). A few more may be aware of the pleas of the Audubon Society to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to leave enough water in Owens Valley, formerly Owens Lake, to support migratory birds. Recently, Heal the Bay president Mark Gold remarked in an interview that even though we in California take the lion’s share of water from the Colorado River, there was never a funeral for its delta — it’s as if we didn’t even notice the disappearance of nearly two million acres of wetlands where the lifeline of the West used to meet the Sea of Cortez.

Is it reasonable, or even possible, for Angelenos to be expected to understand and respect the distant watersheds tapped to sustain us? Can we evolve into a smart parasite, the kind that doesn’t kill its host? On Friday April 16th at 7.30pm at the G2 Gallery in Venice, I will be taking Deacon’s equation and applying it to the cost to the West of sustaining the gardens of Los Angeles, where it’s estimated that half of our urban water supply water goes. The discussion will focus on two questions: Can we and should we use less water to protect the distant wild sources and their flora and fauna? Moreover, when working with the water that we import, should it be part of the social contract to use our public and private gardens to create and maintain meaningful new habitat to support indigenous plants and animals that we have displaced?


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