How the Environmentalists are Destroying California

If you drive through California’s Central Valley, you will see, along both sides of the ribbon of highway, acres of scorched earth. The arid land goes on in some places as far as the eye can see. This land was once rich in fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Now it is a wasteland, a seemingly endless expanse of brown, dry, and barren earth.

Periodically you will see a billboard, welcoming you to the manmade California desert, which displays mocking appreciation for some of our more notable Democratic elected officials who have helped in this creation.

California is experiencing the fourth year of a severe drought, a condition not exactly uncommon in a climate that has only six months of rain. Political and legal decisions made over the last forty years have added to the drought’s severity.  

If you want to know what life would be like in an environmentalist-dominated society, take a drive up Interstate 5. Environmentalists sacrificed this productive land on the altar of the Endangered Species Act. President Barack Obama has vowed to keep it that way.

Generations ago, the political leaders of California realized that the only way to provide for a growing population and to make the land productive was to create a water infrastructure that would move water from where it was abundant to where it was sparse.  

Beginning in the early 1970s, however, the environmentalists began going to court to have water diverted to naturalize streams. In the name of saving the environment, they fought every attempt to expand the water infrastructure to meet the needs of California’s rapidly growing population and agricultural base.

The environmentalists are quick to note that a rushing stream is beautiful, and equally quick to ignore that an uncontrolled stream produces both floods and drought.

The irony of using water from a manmade storage system to make rivers run wild was not lost on California’s farmers, but the environmentalists, drawn largely from our liberal, urban coastal elite, were incapable of recognizing the paradox.

In 2007, they mobilized around saving the Delta Smelt, a three-inch baitfish, as an outgrowth of a policy that for decades put animal life and vegetation ahead of drinking water and food.

The Delta Smelt requires a rare and somewhat precise mixture of fresh and salt water. It is by any measure a fragile species.

In August 2007, Federal Judge Oliver Wanger ruled that the fresh water pumped into the Central Valley, the lifeblood of its economic base, threatened the survival of the Delta Smelt. He ordered a severe reduction in the water directed to Central Valley agriculture.

The ruling (subsequently reversed for sloppy science and then upheld) resulted in a loss of thousands of jobs and acres of farmland. The recent four-year drought exacerbated the ruling’s impact on the Central Valley’s economic base.

A University of California, Davis 2015 survey of the Delta Smelt population showed that it was in such severe decline that despite the diversion it has a low probability of survival.

The fight over the Delta Smelt casts into prominent relief an ongoing cultural conflict. It is a fight between people who value a baitfish over productive farmland and America’s food resources. Irrigated California farms produce over 90% of some of the fruits and nuts that end up on America’s dinner tables.

The environmentalists, for decades, have prevented the expansion of the vital water infrastructure needed to deal with our growing population. Environmentalists even object to building desalination plants because the intake valves kill fish and the residual water has high concentrations of salt.

The large desalination plant under construction at Carlsbad, California endured six years of getting government permits and no fewer than twelve environmental lawsuits.

Drought in this climate is a cyclical phenomenon. Between 1985 and 1991, California experienced a severe drought that required the importation of water by tanker ship from British Columbia.

Our powerful national senators and representatives did nothing to amend the Endangered Species Act so that fresh water could be directed into the Central Valley instead of the ocean. Our state government did nothing to prepare for the inevitable drought because to build dams, reservoirs, and desalination plants would upset the strong environmental political base.

Ironically, the same environmental base that is against expanding the water infrastructure is also supportive of the states’ providing inducements to the vast numbers of illegal immigrants coming through our porous border with Mexico.

The environmentalists see no contradiction in freezing the California water system at its 1970 level while creating a hospitable environment for millions of illegal immigrants to settle in the state.

As the Central Valley farms dry up and as farmers desperately drill further into the ever-diminishing water table, our urban liberal elites have barely been affected. In the wealthy communities surrounding Los Angeles, water usage during the drought has actually increased in order to maintain lush lawns and landscapes. The environmentalists have not proposed using the water in the Hetch Ketchy reservoir, San Francisco’s water supply, to naturalize rivers and streams.

In the Central Valley, the unemployment rates rise as the water table sinks, and the people who live and work in this area are largely the minorities for whom the urban elites profess such compassion.

Governor Jerry Brown campaigned for and had a water bond issue passed. True to the liberal mentality, however, only a third of the funds will go for water infrastructure. The rest will go to a new regulatory bureaucracy.   

California is the Petri dish of the nation. If environmentalists can choose water for a baitfish over water for food and human consumption, then there is no end to the harm they can wreak on humanity in order to save the planet.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati; he lives in Contra Costa County, California.

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