It’s the Water

After a couple years in the ocean, coho salmon head for home, to the fresh water where they were spawned. The trip can be thousands of miles and is fraught with danger from fishermen and orca whales.

Meanwhile… as we go about our lives on land, motoring from place to place, our tires wear down and leave tiny particles of rubber on the roads. The tires’ rubber is laced with a preservative containing the chemical antioxidant 6PPD-quinone. When we drive, our tires shed the chemical-laced rubber dust onto the roadway. Rain eventually washes it into streams and lakes along with other debris. 6PPD-quinone is one of 2,000 identified chemicals in road runoff.

Scientists estimate the forty percent of the waterways in the Puget Sound area are tainted with 6PPD-quinone. When coho salmon encounter the chemical, it’s usually fatal within a few hours, long before the fish are able to spawn. Depending on proximity to heavily-traveled roads, somewhere between fifty to ninety percent of returning salmon succumb to the chemical.

Meanwhile… to the east, the outlook for salmon is brighter. Salmon have laid eggs in the upper Columbia River for the first time since the Grand Coulee Dam blocked their return to spawning areas eighty years ago. Native American tribes and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife began working together in 2014 on a project to provide access and improved habitat.

In a test, salmon released above Grand Coulee in 2019, found their way back a year later to their spawning area, an eight-mile stretch of the Sanpoil River, a tributary of the Columbia. The next phase of the testing is to record how many of the newly-hatched fish find their way back.

Dams constructed down river on the Columbia, built after the Grand Coulee, provided fish ladders that gave salmon a route to swim past, although with great difficulty. Salmon further down the Columbia also faced the hazard of hungry sea lions who immigrated all the way from California to gorge themselves on the tasty fish.

Meanwhile… in other water news, Wall Street has begun trading in California water futures. After eight years of drought and annual wildfires ravaging the state with increasing ferocity, municipalities, farmers and, yes, hedge funds can hedge against future shortages with contracts for future delivery of water. The contracts can be bought and sold, like bonds and stocks, as the price of water fluctuates.

“Climate change, droughts, population growth, and pollution are likely to make water scarcity issues and pricing a hot topic for years to come,” said one analyst.

Trading water futures is surely safer than trading sub-prime mortgages.

Water Fight

California’s San Joaquin Valley produces 25% of our nation’s table food using 1% of the nation’s land. Grapes – table, raisin and wine – cotton, nuts – especially almonds and pistachios – lettuce, citrus, tomatoes are among the more than 250 crops grown in the area. Pretty impressive for what is basically a desert. But it’s using up what water it has available.

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