If it Looks Like a Policy…

Friday’s post looked at the consequences of non-action appearing to be action not publically stated and this recent story in the Wall Street Journal concludes with the same thought:

An excerpt.

Reservoirs and rivers are overflowing as storms have pounded California this winter, and after years of drought that should be good news. The problem is that misguided environmentalism is wasting the water windfall and failing to store it for a non-rainy day.

Hydrologic records indicate that this year could be the wettest on record in California. Statewide snowpack measures 160% of average. Precipitation in Palm Springs exceeds the historic norm by more than 50%. Lo, the desert is actually blooming. Most of the major reservoirs in the north are full, and some are releasing hundreds of billions of gallons of water to prevent flooding and make room for the melting snowpack this spring.

While farmers and communities downstream can capture some of the discharges, millions of acre-feet will invariably flow into the ocean due to lack of storage capacity and rules to protect endangered fish species. One problem is that while the state population has increased 70% since 1979, storage hasn’t expanded. Water districts in southern California have developed small local reservoirs and groundwater basins, but what’s most needed is storage in the north where most of the rain and snow falls.

The Public Policy Institute of California estimates that five proposed reservoirs could add four million acre-feet of storage capacity at a cost of $9 billion. Yet environmentalists have opposed every significant surface storage project for three decades. The state is even razing four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River that green groups complain impede fish migration.

Ah, the fish. Regulations intended to protect smelt and salmon have limited pumping at the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. As a result, some seven million acre-feet of water that was once available for Central Valley farmers and Southern California is flushed into San Francisco Bay each year.

Meanwhile, a 60-mile dry riverbed on the San Joaquin River that hasn’t borne fish since the 1940s is being restored at a cost of $1.7 billion to farmers and state and federal taxpayers. The river restoration is expected to divert an additional 170,000 acre-feet each year, but it could be more since the Chinook salmon that environmentalists want to revive require cool temperatures—meaning more water—to spawn and survive. Government biologists are spending millions of dollars to truck (literally) salmon around the valley while trying to calibrate optimal temperatures and water flows. Yes, these salmon have chauffeurs.

Last September the State Water Resources Control Board proposed limiting the amount of water that farmers and cities in the north could use from three tributaries that feed into the San Joaquin River in order to boost the Central Valley’s fall-run Chinook salmon population, which numbers 750,000. The plan would reduce water available to farmers and cities by 250,000 acre-feet on average annually and 500,000 acre-feet during dry years. If all goes according to plan, the salmon population could increase by 1,103.

The affected communities including the Bay Area are represented by Democrats and enjoy senior water rights. So they’ve been less vulnerable to regulatory cutbacks that have parched farmers in the south. While the state board’s plan would cause more farmland to be removed from production, the main casualties would be low-income and Hispanic communities like Merced that rely on groundwater recharged by the tributaries.

What’s especially ironic is that all of the water diversions intended to benefit the environment may be causing irreparable environmental damage. Communities and farmers have drilled deeper wells and pumped more groundwater to compensate for reduced imports from the delta, leading to severe land subsidence.

A recent report by the California Department of Water Resources found that the San Joaquin Valley is sinking at a rate of nearly two inches per month in some areas. Land around Corcoran dropped 22 inches between May 2015 and September 2016, complicating engineering work on the state’s bullet train. Subsidence has also reduced the carrying capacity of the California Aqueduct, which delivers water to Southern California, by 20%.

California has an arid climate, and parched times will return, which is all the more reason to take advantage of the wet years. That greens and politicians won’t do so suggests they almost wish for permanent drought.

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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