Jerry Brown orders mandatory water restrictions in California

Propaganda, hidden agendas, and government revenue are at the heart of the mandatory water restrictions – a cutback on 25% on residential and commercial users announced by California governor Jerry Brown yesterday.  Water and money and covert agendas are closely linked in the state’s history of development (as any viewer of the classic movie Chinatown knows), and the flim-flammery continues today.

Make no mistake: facing depleted reservoirs and the lowest snowpack ever recorded since measurement began in 1950, California needs to cut back on water usage.  But Governor Jerry Brown has chosen an approach that focuses on fines for residential usage, less than 25% of the total water consumed in the state, and does almost nothing to decrease water usage where most of it is consumed.  

On the actual water usage, see this helpful graph from UCLA:

The Los Angeles Times is one of the few media outlets to take a realistic view of water usage:

The order focused on urban life even though agriculture accounts for roughly three quarters of Californians' water usage.

But Adam Nagourney of the New York Times writes this howler:

Lawns consume much of the water used every year in California ...

Agriculture, which uses the lion’s share, is least affected by Brown’s orders.  The NYT:

… the owners of large farms will be required, under the governor’s executive order, to offer detailed reports to state regulators about water use, ideally as a way to highlight incidents of water diversion or waste.

That’s it!  Now, in fairness, agriculture has already seen cutbacks, and some agricultural water rights holders have sold their water to urban districts, which can be very profitable.  Cutting back agricultural use can wreak havoc on local economies in rural California that have already suffered from cutbacks.  Some agriculture, such as orchards and vineyards, takes many years to develop, so cutbacks that kill trees and vines will cripple output for many years.  Other agricultural use, such as pasturage and many vegetables, can be replanted annually.  So considerable care and judgment are necessary in choosing where cutbacks are made.  Brown’s orders do nothing on this point.

Brown’s measures will do nothing to affect the usable water flowing out to the ocean that is dedicated to keeping the delta smelt, classified as an endangered species, healthy and abundant in the delta region.  Victor Davis Hanson writes:

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.

The state has not bothered adding to its water infrastructure for decades, in which the population has almost doubled.  Instead, Governor Brown’s pet project, the so called high-speed rail (that will run at average speeds attained by railroads a century ago), is budgeted at almost $70 billion, and given the history of large public works project budget overruns, the figure is all but certain to at least double, if the project is ever completed.

Now, there is nothing at all wrong with urban water conservation measures.  California is mostly a desert.  Water-sparing xeriscaping should replace lawns, gray water (unfit for human consumption) should be used wherever possible, and low-water usage appliances and toilets should be encouraged, even subsidized.

But if Brown really wants to ensure adequate supplies of water, he should scrap the rail plan and get serious about increasing water-gathering and storage facilities, and lobby the federal government to modify endangered species treatment so as to prioritize people over obscure fish variants.

I am very wary of planning mavens seeking to use this supply disruption to advance their goal of crowding people into apartments near transit stations, on the theory that, in the words of the New York Times, “lawns consume much of the water used every year in California.”

Propaganda, hidden agendas, and government revenue are at the heart of the mandatory water restrictions – a cutback on 25% on residential and commercial users announced by California governor Jerry Brown yesterday.  Water and money and covert agendas are closely linked in the state’s history of development (as any viewer of the classic movie Chinatown knows), and the flim-flammery continues today.

Make no mistake: facing depleted reservoirs and the lowest snowpack ever recorded since measurement began in 1950, California needs to cut back on water usage.  But Governor Jerry Brown has chosen an approach that focuses on fines for residential usage, less than 25% of the total water consumed in the state, and does almost nothing to decrease water usage where most of it is consumed.  

On the actual water usage, see this helpful graph from UCLA:

The Los Angeles Times is one of the few media outlets to take a realistic view of water usage:

The order focused on urban life even though agriculture accounts for roughly three quarters of Californians' water usage.

But Adam Nagourney of the New York Times writes this howler:

Lawns consume much of the water used every year in California ...

Agriculture, which uses the lion’s share, is least affected by Brown’s orders.  The NYT:

… the owners of large farms will be required, under the governor’s executive order, to offer detailed reports to state regulators about water use, ideally as a way to highlight incidents of water diversion or waste.

That’s it!  Now, in fairness, agriculture has already seen cutbacks, and some agricultural water rights holders have sold their water to urban districts, which can be very profitable.  Cutting back agricultural use can wreak havoc on local economies in rural California that have already suffered from cutbacks.  Some agriculture, such as orchards and vineyards, takes many years to develop, so cutbacks that kill trees and vines will cripple output for many years.  Other agricultural use, such as pasturage and many vegetables, can be replanted annually.  So considerable care and judgment are necessary in choosing where cutbacks are made.  Brown’s orders do nothing on this point.

Brown’s measures will do nothing to affect the usable water flowing out to the ocean that is dedicated to keeping the delta smelt, classified as an endangered species, healthy and abundant in the delta region.  Victor Davis Hanson writes:

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.

The state has not bothered adding to its water infrastructure for decades, in which the population has almost doubled.  Instead, Governor Brown’s pet project, the so called high-speed rail (that will run at average speeds attained by railroads a century ago), is budgeted at almost $70 billion, and given the history of large public works project budget overruns, the figure is all but certain to at least double, if the project is ever completed.

Now, there is nothing at all wrong with urban water conservation measures.  California is mostly a desert.  Water-sparing xeriscaping should replace lawns, gray water (unfit for human consumption) should be used wherever possible, and low-water usage appliances and toilets should be encouraged, even subsidized.

But if Brown really wants to ensure adequate supplies of water, he should scrap the rail plan and get serious about increasing water-gathering and storage facilities, and lobby the federal government to modify endangered species treatment so as to prioritize people over obscure fish variants.

I am very wary of planning mavens seeking to use this supply disruption to advance their goal of crowding people into apartments near transit stations, on the theory that, in the words of the New York Times, “lawns consume much of the water used every year in California.”