It’s not new that most of the rainfall in California is in the north and most of the people and farms using water are further south. It’s not new that California has wet years and dry years, or that the state is at risk of both flooding and drought, sometimes simultaneously.
What’s new is that earlier generations of California politicians solved water problems, while the current generation intentionally creates them.
We are the beneficiaries of monumental achievements in water infrastructure that made modern California possible. And yet we are living under a government that believes it’s a good idea to withhold water that is readily available to sustain farming and human life.
This is happening right now as funding for new reservoirs is being held hostage to an idiotic requirement that water storage projects can only have the funding voters approved for them if the projects provide public benefits. Why is that idiotic? Because under the law, “water” doesn’t count as a public benefit.
That’s what’s in the small print of Proposition 1, a water bond measure passed in November 2014. Prop. 1 provides $2.7 billion for water storage projects, but in order to qualify for the funding, the projects must provide an adequate amount of five public benefits: ecosystem benefits, water quality, flood control, emergency response and recreation.
The projects are “scored” on each of the public benefits by the California Water Commission, an unelected regulatory body made up of nine people appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
In one example, the proposed Sites Reservoir in Colusa County is not likely to get full funding because providing 1.8 million acre-feet of water doesn’t count as a public benefit.
As regulators take their time to contemplate benefits for jet skiers and migratory birds, taxpayers and water customers — they’re the same people — are being hammered or threatened with parcel taxes, water rate hikes, stormwater fees, drinking water taxes and tightening restrictions on water use that together are beginning to approach a human rights violation.
And then on Friday, it got even worse.
The State Water Resources Control Board announced a new proposal for water allocation in California that would further reduce the amount of water available to farms and cities. Another proposal, expected later this year, would increase the volume of water from the Sacramento River that washes out to the ocean.
Because in balancing the needs of fish and people, the government of California stands on the side of fish.
This will launch California into another battle with the Trump administration, which has vowed to maximize water deliveries to the south. Water is pumped south of the Delta by two massive pumping stations — the Central Valley Project, which is owned by the federal government, and the State Water Project, controlled by California.
If you add up all the efforts by California officials to intentionally limit the amount of water available for human use, and then you add up the tens of billions of dollars it will cost to try to get make up the difference with tunnels under the Delta and “local water” from toilets and gutters, it all adds up to one thing.
This can be fixed. Water bond measures should state that water storage is a public benefit. And when the next governor takes office, he ought to fire every state water regulator who fails to identify “human” as a species worth protecting.
Susan Shelley is an editorial writer for the Southern California News Group.
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