There’s an old sarcastic line that whatever starts in California – whether eating salad at the beginning of a meal or the limited access motorways – spreads eventually to what Angelenos consider the rest of the benighted U.S.
Let’s pray that will not be the case with the current California drought and the way it is being handled by the politicians in Sacramento and their right-thinking savants in the media and academia.
Although you might never know it from some of the headlines and debate, California has sporadically suffered relatively frequent periods of water shortage. In 1841 the Sacramento Valley was written off as “a barren wasteland.” The Dust Bowl droughts throughout the West of 1928-1935 created a whole literature of economic depression coupled with migration brought the federal government into a Central Valley Project system of canals, pumps and aqueducts. In 1976-1977 drought marked one of the driest years on record with the mountain icepacks then, as now, melted away.
This time after four years Californians have cut water use by a third —well above the 25-percent reduction targeted by Gov,. Jerry Brown but there’s still not enough water. As Steven Greenhut has proved in a series of articles for Heritage Foundation, the drought effects are as much man-made as by a cruel Mother Nature.
Virtually everywhere you look around the state, the enviromentalistas are running rampant. In the Sierra foothills, state officials have been emptying reservoirs to protect “unimpeded” river flows to benefit small numbers of non-endangered hatchery fish. The California Coastal Commission, the powerful agency with control of development has blocked a privately planned desalination plant over concerns about its impact on plankton. The commission mesmerized by the sirene song of environmental freaks wants a pumping system that destroys its economics.
The Obama Administration has joined in the death dance of the local ideologues. Near the Oregon on the Klamath River, federal t officials want to remove four dams that provide water storage. Their excuse is the preservation of non-native salmon. But even the trendy San Franciscans vetoed a 2012 referendum proposed by the Destroy the Dams movement which would have eliminated the main reservoirs for the state’s third largest city.
The argument centers on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, an area of about a thousand square miles of rivers, swamps, islands, orchards, and towns and marinas which is the West Coast’s largest estuary. Stored up by old dirt dams, a pumping station sends fresh water to farmers in the San Joaquin valley and the cities in the south. But during droughts, the water backs up to the pumping station and turns salty. And when a baitfish, the tiny Delta Smelt turns up dead on the local screens, the authorities cut the pumping off.
Since 1982, Gov., Jerry Brown has proposed a $25-billion twin tunnels project which would carry fresh water around the Delta to the irrigated farmlands and the cities of the south. The twin tunnels would protect the Delta Smelts and assure a more secure water supply. But Northern Californians oppose it on the basis that it is a water grab by the southern end of the state.
Jerry Brown’s father, Gov. Pat Brown presided over a huge New Deal statewide water project. It included 34 storage facilities, reservoirs, 20 pumping plants, four pumping-generating plants, five hydroelectric power plants, and about 701 miles of open canals and pipelines. The project provides supplemental water to approximately 25 million Californians and about 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland. The very thought of anything like that today sends the enviromentalistas into a frenzy of self-destruction.
It may be, as Greenhut says, that rain is the least of California’s drought problems.