I have recently found the general political landscape in such chaotic shape as we lurch and sway toward the November elections that I was recently pleasantly surprised to encounter a piece news that might even suggest hope. The New York Times ran an article on an effort to conserve and distribute water in the Yakima River Basin. Living as I do watching the water in the Colorado River systems being contested and negotiated, this project cheered me considerably.
The article is called Climate Change is Ravaging the Colorado River. There’s a Model to avert the Worst by Henry Fountain. New York Times, September 5, 2022. In some of the struggles arising from this drought I am reminded of two young children fighting over time at a straw in a single soft drink container. As children their conflict makes some sense because children are necessarily coming to first terms with desire and limits. Their squabbling is neither good or bad, but rather part of a larger learning process. In the end when the soft drink container is empty, the children discover a harder truth about limits and the straw loses its attraction as the container draws empty. Scale up a bit and you have any large river system delivering alpha water from the high mountains. In a drought, the water source over time simply loses its capacity for the robust delivery of fresh water from the mountains and higher plains. The ‘straws’ we insert into the source river downstream begin to suck air. The difference from the children’s squabble is with these water sources mature adults should be using their adult minds to make good decisions given due diligence and the changing information that diligence brings. Once again the truth of the situation has rough edges and is harder than the consoling fictions that delay genuine action.
To quote Mr Fountain in his Times article: Tired of spending more time in courtrooms than at conference tables, and faced with studies showing the situation would only get worse, they hashed out a plan to manage the Yakima River and its tributaries for the next 30 years to ensure a stable supply of water. Protracted and protracting legal battles are tools for the very wealthy and are usually used to extend systems of privilege that serve, not surprisingly, mostly themselves. The break in this self serving cycle of conflict came to the Yakima Basin when Ron Van Gundy, manager of the Roza irrigation district initiated a contact with Phil Rigdon, director of the Yakima Nation natural resources division and they decided to talk. This simple invitation initiated by Mr Grundy was generously reciprocated and from that impetus a growing coalition of stakeholders eventually put together the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan. This Plan provides a blue print for the future for water resources in this increasingly stressful time of drought.
“But those who are intimately familiar with the Yakima plan say the plan’s fundamental principle, of shared sacrifice and cooperation among groups that were often adversaries, can apply anywhere”. I am thinking in that simple sentence from Mr Fountain’s article lies two critical principles for us to integrate into our understanding of good. ‘Shared sacrifice’ and “cooperation” could point the way to restoring our environment, economy, and national politics. Were we to enter any enterprise or project with those two attributes firmly embedded in our overall Sense of Good, what a different world we could inhabit. Meanwhile I am encouraged by and grateful to the wise people of the Yakima River Basin and Yakima Nation who had the courage to try a different path. There is hope.