Dan Walters: Water duel symbolizes deep chasm
By Dan Walters – Bee Columnist
Published 12:00 am PDT Sunday, September 30, 2007
When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special legislative session on water supply, it underscored that California’s fundamental conflicts over water remain as rigidly unrelenting as they have been for the past three-plus decades.
Ostensibly, as framed by Schwarzenegger and other politicians, the conflicts are largely financial and technological. What’s the most reliable and cost-effective way of capturing and conveying enough water to serve present and future needs while protecting, to the extent possible, fish and other wildlife dependent on flows in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the nexus of water in California?
Were that the only question, engineers, hydrologists, construction managers, biologists and other professionals could answer it. It wouldn’t be easy, but they could do it, and politicians and voters could decide how to apportion costs. That’s more or less how the peripheral canal came to be approved by the Legislature over a quarter-century ago as the best approach to transporting water while protecting the Delta.
There are, however, an infinite number of intangible aspects to water, what Schwarzenegger and others have likened to religious war. Indeed, California’s decades of arcane water conflict can be just as opaque as the 1,100-year-old doctrinal feud that leads Sunnis and Shiites to kill each other in Iraq. Mistrust, supposition and myopic self-interest killed the peripheral canal in 1982 and continue to block agreement on water today.
The conflicts, moreover, are only tangentially about water per se; fundamentally they are deeply seated, perhaps intractable philosophical differences over how — or even whether — California should develop to serve its ever-burgeoning population. Water supply is intrinsically connected to land use, housing, energy and transportation policies. Those are intertwined, in turn, with our widely divergent conceptions of what kinds of lives we Californians should be leading in the 21st century.