Environmentalists & California Water

This is an excellent snapshot of the history of water storage and its use, and how the environmentalism movement is slowly destroying the agricultural wonder that has fed the world from the Great Valley of California, by Victor Davis Hanson in City Journal.

An excerpt.

In mid-December, the first large storms in three years drenched California. No one knows whether the rain and snow will continue—only that it must last for weeks if a record three-year drought, both natural and man-made, is to end. In the 1970s, coastal elites squelched California’s near-century-long commitment to building dams, reservoirs, and canals, even as the Golden State’s population ballooned. Court-ordered drainage of man-made lakes, meant to restore fish to the 1,100-square-mile Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, partly caused central California’s reservoir water to dry up. Not content with preventing construction of new water infrastructure, environmentalists reverse-engineered existing projects to divert precious water away from agriculture, privileging the needs of fish over the needs of people. Then they alleged that global warming, not their own foolish policies, had caused the current crisis.

Even as a fourth year of drought threatens the state, canal water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite National Park keeps Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area a verdant oasis. This parched coastal mountain range would have depopulated long ago without the infrastructure that an earlier, wiser generation built and that latter-day regulators and environmentalists so casually deprecated. (See “California’s Promethean Past,” Summer 2013.) Gardens and lawns remain green in Palo Alto, San Mateo, Cupertino, and San Francisco, where residents continue to benefit from past investments in huge water transfers from inland mountains to the coast. They will be the last to go dry.

I grew up in the central San Joaquin Valley during the 1950s. In those days, some old-timers remembered with fondness when the undammed Kings River’s wild, white water would gush down into the sparsely populated valley. But most Californians never had such nostalgia. Past generations accepted that California was a growing state (with some 20 million people by 1970), that agriculture was its premier industry, and that the state fed not just its own people but millions across America and overseas. All of that required redistribution of water—and thus dams, reservoirs, and irrigation canals.

For 50 years, the state transferred surface water from northern California to the Central Valley through the California State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. Given these vast and ambitious initiatives, Californians didn’t worry much about the occasional one- or two-year drought or the steady growth in population. The postwar, can-do mentality resulted in a brilliantly engineered water system, far ahead of its time, that brought canal water daily from the 30 percent of the state where rain and snow were plentiful—mostly north of Sacramento as well as from the Sierra Nevada Mountains—to the lower, western, and warmer 70 percent of the state, where people preferred to work, farm, and live.

Everyone seemed to benefit. Floods in northern California became a thing of the past. The more than 40 major mountain reservoirs generated clean hydroelectric power. New lakes offered recreation for millions living in a once-arid state. Gravity-fed snowmelt was channeled into irrigation canals, opening millions of new acres to farming and ending reliance on pumping the aquifer. To most Californians, the irrigated, fertile Central Valley seemed a natural occurrence, not an environmental anomaly made possible only through the foresight of a now-forgotten generation of engineers and hydrologists.

Retrieved February 9, 2015 from http://www.city-journal.org/2015/25_1_california-drought.html

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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