Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘water

“Miracle in the Desert”

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Ariel photo of the Salton Sea from the south
from Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0
Created: 31 January 2012

I get offered all sorts of things by email. This time I was offered a “Press Screener” – access to a video on line that will become available soon. I get to write about it in the hopes that people will spread the word about the upcoming release.

This is an excerpt from the email which lead me to ask for access to the video

“…documentary release of filmmaker Greg Bassenian (“CSI: Miami”) eye-opening award-winning documentary Miracle in the Desert: The Rise and Fall of the Salton Sea,” which lays bare the startling environmental disaster that is the Salton Sea in California’s coveted Coachella valley.  Charting the Salton Sea’s creation in 1905 to the current devastating environmental crisis that it faces today, this harrowing journey takes the viewer into the toxic dust. As the largest lake in California begins to dry, millions of lives are in danger as clouds of toxic dust threaten the health of millions of Californians. … Bassenian’s  new documentary carefully plots the course of economic growth that sprouted a shimmering desert riviera laden with costly construction challenges developing into the perfect storm – creating an unstable ecosystem that now lays to waste the health of the Coachella Valley’s community as both local and federal governments look to pass the cost of fixing things onto someone other than themselves. This riveting investigative documentary will be released by Gravitas Ventures, a Red Arrow Studios company across North America on all VOD/Digital & Blu-Ray/DVD platforms beginning on September 22nd, 2020.”

I was aware that the water from the Colorado River no longer reaches the sea. What I did not know was that this was the result of some turn of the century real estate speculation based on the idea of making the desert bloom. It actually went badly wrong from the start. Both due to the unpredictable nature of severe weather events but also due to some remarkable ignorance on the way that rivers work. The idea to build a canal to tap into the massive waterflow of the Colorado just south of the Mexican border and send it back north to a desert a couple hundred feet below sea level seem an attractive proposition. But the notion that the canal would have to deal with a massive quantity of silt didn’t seem to occur to the promoters. Or the need for the diversion to be able to cope with flash floods when the river level rose.

Map of the Salton Sea drainage area
source: wikipedia

Far too much water turns out to be as big a problem as not nearly enough. And in Southern California where the major cities have been growing rapidly and the people there demanding more water as a result seems to have run counter to any idea that having created California’s largest lake, there could be dire consequences from not looking after it properly. Or at all.

Much of the movie is about the failure of the California state government doing anything effective. They have made many plans. There have been plenty of surveys. There has been no real action of any kind – other than trying to persuade farmers who were encouraged to move to the Coachella and Imperial valleys with the promise of irrigation to give up farming all together.

The big, immediate issue is the health of the population. Obviously the impacts are currently greatest locally but the potential problem is going to cover a much wider area, including those large new populations mentioned above. Indeed drying up of lake beds producing air quality problems with widespread health impacts is not new in California. On the other hand while politicians need to be seen to be concerned about public health, as we currently see with COVID, that doesn’t mean that they feel they have to do very much about it. Most Americans are still on their own, or at the mercy of insurance companies, when it comes to healthcare costs.

When I watched the video I was actually quite pleased that there was no mention of the current crises. I don’t think the words COVID or Trump occurred once. The feds do get the odd nod here and there but overwhelmingly the blame is being directed at Sacramento, the state capital. No individual politicians at State level are mentioned, though some local ones are very compelling in their on screen remarks. No political party is mentioned either. In fact the real surprise is how positive so many of the locals are that there are solutions that will work and will cost far less than doing nothing.

I highly recommend looking out for this video on your preferred streaming media source, and I hope that if you are in Southern California – or know people there – that this documentary will encourage you to consider what actions you can take to influence how the decision makers can be made to actually do their jobs for a change. Because a miracle is certainly needed

The featured image for this blog post also comes from Wikipedia
Samboy – I took a picture from the window of an airplane I was on”

Ariel photo of the Salton Sea from the south

  • CC BY-SA 4.0
  • File:SaltonSeaArielFromSouth.jpg
  • Created: 31 January 2012

Written by Stephen Rees

August 9, 2020 at 3:22 pm

Posted in Environment

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Liquid

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My first reaction this week’s photo challenge was to repost some of my beer pictures. It is one of the most frequent subjects on my Instagram and Flickr streams. There are also lots of river and sea pictures – but again more about the scenery than the water. Which  is when I thought of waterfalls!

Vetter Falls

Vetter Falls, BC

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls, BC

Blackiston Falls

Blackiston Falls, Alberta


Cameron Falls, Alberta

Twin Falls

Twin Falls, North Vancouver, BC

Written by Stephen Rees

May 16, 2018 at 9:34 am

Weekly Photo Challenge: Elemental

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Posted in response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Elemental

Earth, water and fire – but neither of those in the third category are actually what I wanted. I was quite surprised that there is nothing of mine that is a photo of a fire. Of course, right now we are still socked in by the smoke from the BC wildfires – but that looks like nothing at all. Just a white haze.

Maybe I will get lucky later if I actually follow the original instruction “as you pick up your camera this week.” All of these come from the archives!


So posting a picture of “air” is pretty much impossible – but I have a picture of a willow tree in strong wind at Kits Beach and I did find these pictures of the impact of strong winds

Snapped off

Another wreck

Hadden Park stranding

The wind in its leaves

And one of actual flames (from a gas fire)


and a beach bonfire

Bonfire on Okanagan Beach

So there we have all four elements – earth, water, wind and fire!

Written by Stephen Rees

August 9, 2017 at 9:53 am

Drip, drip: the sound of water and money down the drain

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Carey Doberstein presents the case for water metering.

Basically the case is made that making consumers pay for the extra $50m that water meters will cost is worthwhile as it will save uncounted costs in expanding infrastructure to meet demand.

I would find that argument more convincing if something was also added about how much water the system itself wastes, but it is true that infrastructure investments tend to be at least an order of magnitude greater than the cost of water meters. It is certainly more compelling than the suggestion that we need to conserve water here because there are shortages of water elsewhere. I am also less than happy with the idea that consumers have to pay more for water to stop them using it so that it can be sold by private sector companies that stand to make vast profits out of what is (or should be) a commonly held resource. It is our water and does not belong to the bottlers or the power exporters – or some future bulk water shippers.

There is also a need to ensure that if we are obliged to pay for metered water from the mains we be allowed to use water in ways that are more efficient, which are currently prohibited by building codes and other municipal policies and regulations. So the reuse of grey water and the collection of rainwater – as well as the use of systems that allow rain water to percolate back into the soil rather than flush municipal sewers and storm drains would be necessary too. Indeed, one of the features of good design that was common to every charrette that I have been to has related to water treatment – which is as important to smart growth as walkability.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 9, 2008 at 8:26 am

Posted in regional government, Urban Planning, water

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B.C. aims to cut water use

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The province wants us to save water. I wonder why? There is no mention of the rush for new run of the river hydro schemes – all designed to put money into the pockets of investors by selling power to the US.

There is also no mention of the role of municipal water systems – and how old infrastructure wastes vast amounts of water every day. Leaky old pipes are not being replaced as a money saving measure. And again there is no mention of the province using some of its huge surplus to invest in better infrastructure.

Plus, of course, we live on the wet coast – this used to be a temperate rain forest. You might have noticed that it rains here. And that our reservoirs do not have enough capacity to meet demand year round, but much of the time are simply spilling water over the dams. We are also not allowed to use grey water systems for tasks like flushing toilets. It offends against the building code. As do most systems that would allow us to build in a way that retained water on site. Once again I refer to the subdivision that Patrick Condon helped design that reused all its water, and had very advanced drainage systems but had to have a duplicate, expensive and completely unnecessary municipal system added, to satisfy the code.

Yes as consumers we can do more, but why it is always the easy path – to spend small sums on hectoring the populace with silly ideas like “if its yellow let it mellow” – when major shifts in the way we do planning, building and regulating development are actually needed? Because its easy that’s why. Not effective. Cycle along any Vancouver bikeway in summer, any non sprinkling day and count how many people are watering the sidewalks and driveways. There are by laws and regulations already that cover that but compliance is spotty at best.

Buy a rain barrel by all means. Do not use fresh drinking quality water to wash your car. Plant native species instead of Kentucky blue grass – then you can get rid of that horrible gas mower too! There is stuff we can do. But mostly government needs to put its own house in order before it starts hectoring us. Do the loos in your local school flush all the time – even when no-one is there?

Written by Stephen Rees

June 4, 2008 at 9:29 am

Posted in Environment

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