Now that the State Water Contractors are so concerned with ammonia from Sacramento’s wastewater causing fish declines in the Delta, I keep imagining myself sitting down to chat with some lobbying flack for the State Water Contractors, a group that until now has been all about engineering water solutions to deliver water to agriculture. I like to think of them leaning earnestly across the table, to tell me things like:
- “Even small amounts of pollutants can greatly disrupt ecosystems. Matter is always conserved, you know. Diluting the problem just makes it all the harder to clean up later.”
- “The food web is crucial to ecosystem stability. Small organisms can have much larger importance than you might think. We don’t mean some minnow, of course, but beautiful little phytoplankton. It is so shallow to focus only on charismatic mega-fauna.”
- “What you can see in these complex systems are threshold events, where different effects combine to cause an unexpected crash. The only way to prevent that is to protect natural ecosystem functions and processes.”
- “We should spend what it takes to keep the Delta ecosystem stable. There’s no balancing test for keeping Nature alive.”
I am pleased to welcome the State Water Contractors to the world of Ecology, where everything is complex and inter-related. They are going to just love the concepts of resilience (how much ammonia can one dump into a system before it re-sets to less complex functioning) and appreciating how each small part contributes to a rich larger system. Spend enough time hanging out in Ecology, and they’ll start to love the precautionary principle, because it turns out to be really hard to patch ecosystems back together. If a small and ignoble part of me thinks that their newfound love for phytoplankton is something of an opportunistic attempt at distraction from the much larger effects of lack of water through the Delta, well, I think it could be good for the State Water Contractors to start thinking like biologists and ecologists anyway.
Now that the State Water Contractors are all about ecology, where might they turn their attention next? I’ve loved their recent emphasis on invasive species. Are they going to get very interested in upstream creek restoration and spawning grounds? They should. How about water quality besides ammonia from Sacramento’s wastewater? Methyl mercury from gold mining? It all combines to influence the Delta ecosystem, as well they know. I’m looking forward to more lectures from them about food webs.