Anyone following this issue—except the environmentalists—understands that California’s political leaders have contributed to problems with water by not keeping up with increasing population by increasing water storage, which is what Victor Davis Hanson examines in this superb article.
The present four-year California drought is not novel — even if President Barack Obama and California governor Jerry Brown have blamed it on man-made climate change.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, California droughts are both age-old and common. Predictable California dry spells — like those of 1929–34, 1976–77, and 1987–92 — are more likely result from poorly understood but temporary changes in atmospheric pressures and ocean temperatures.
What is new is that the state has never had 40 million residents during a drought — well over 10 million more than during the last dry spell in the early 1990s. Much of the growth is due to massive and recent immigration. A record one in four current Californians was not born in the United States, according to the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. Whatever one’s view on immigration, it is ironic to encourage millions of newcomers to settle in the state without first making commensurately liberal investments for them in water supplies and infrastructure.
Sharp rises in population still would not have mattered much had state authorities just followed their forbearers’ advice to continually increase water storage. Environmentalists counter that existing dams and reservoirs have already tapped out the state’s potential to transfer water from the wet areas, where 75 percent of the snow and rain fall, to the dry regions, where 75 percent of the population prefers to reside. But that analysis is incomplete.
After the initial phases of the federal Central Valley Project and state California Water Project were largely finished — and flooding was no longer considered a dire threat in Northern California — environmentalists in the last 40 years canceled most of the major second- and third-stage storage projects.
To take a few examples, they stopped the raising of Shasta Dam, the construction of the Peripheral Canal, and gargantuan projects such as the Ah Pah and Dos Rios reservoirs. Those were certainly massive, disruptive, and controversial projects with plenty of downsides — and once considered unnecessary in an earlier, much smaller California.
But no one denies now that they would have added millions of acre-feet of water for 40 million people. Lower foothill dams such as the proposed Sites, Los Banos, and Temperance Flat dams in wet years would have banked millions of acre-feet as insurance for dry years. All such reservoirs were also canceled.
Yet a single 1 million acre-foot reservoir can usually be built as cheaply as a desalinization plant. It requires a fraction of desalinization’s daily energy use, leaves a much smaller carbon footprint, and provides almost 20 times as much water. California could have built perhaps 40–50 such subsidiary reservoirs for the projected $68 billion cost of the proposed high-speed rail project.
Retrieved April 30, 2015 from http://www.nationalreview.com/article/417685/why-californias-drought-was-completely-preventable-victor-davis-hanson