California is in the third or fourth year of a drought. It is not the first one. There was one in the early ’90s that lasted about the same length of time.
Restrictions were placed on watering lawns, washing cars and so forth, but that was before Climate Change had been invented, so people took it in stride and, in time, the rains came again.
This year’s drought drew national attention when governor Jerry Brown called for a 25 percent reduction statewide in water use. Alas, the drought is unevenly distributed. On the north coast, rainfall is close to normal and there is enough water stored not only for this year, but also for another year or two. Where there is not enough water storage—and it is aggravating the effects of the drought—is the state’s great Central Valley.
There has not been a new reservoir built as part of the statewide system in 35 years, thanks to the organized opposition of environmental zealots who claim that dams prevent salmon and trout from spawning. That is a diversionary argument. No dams means a reduction in economic activity such as agriculture. This is a goal the environmental zealots pursue non-stop.
These facts have escaped chin-stroking media pundits in comfortable perches in New York and Washington who have been proclaiming that agriculture has been exempted from the 25 percent usage cut and that’s not fair. A little research would have told them that since 2009 the government has diverted 300 million gallons of water from agriculture in order to make the world safe for a two-inch fish, the Delta smelt.
The Natural Resources Defense Council had filed a lawsuit using the Endangered Species Act to accomplish this feat. A federal judge ruled in its favor. Since then, nearly half-a-million acres of crops have been abandoned due to lack of water. Several thousand jobs have been lost along with them.
Decades ago, long before the great growth of population in the south of the state, there was enough spring runoff from the snow pack in the northern mountains to provide agriculture with water and to flush the river delta system leading into San Francisco Bay, keeping salt water out and protecting the spawning grounds of salmon. The demand for water in the south grew and grew, as did agriculture until California became the nation’s biggest producer of agricultural revenue. Farmers grow a range of cash crops such as olives, avocados, almonds, lettuce, and kiwi fruit.
The reality of today’s California is that a delicate balance needs to be struck between keeping the river deltas free of salt water along with providing water for agriculture.
Yet the only way to save the Delta smelt, the environmentalists argued, is to keep the water from going to the farmers. At the same time they won’t hear of any plans to increase the number of upstream reservoirs so that there would be sufficient water from “wet” years for farmers, homeowners, and, yes, Delta smelt in dry ones.
Governor Brown’s one-size-fits-all mandate of 25 percent reduction in water use will not produce large amounts of water. More importantly, it does nothing to eliminate made-in-Sacramento droughts.