How not to Handle a Water Crisis

Californians have a love affair with water. It’s used for pools, irrigation, green grasses, and washing cars. Yet, because of the drought the grass is turning brown, cars are staying dirty, and pools might be a thing of the past. American Thinker interviewed people who have some knowledge about this crisis. 

There have been about four years of drought. The water supply has been severely depleted largely due to the all time low level of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which usually provides about one-third of the state’s water. Governor Jerry Brown in an executive order directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement a twenty-five percent mandatory reduction. Cuts will vary from community to community, based upon per capita water use. 

Russell Lefevre, the Torrance Director of the Metropolitan Water District, told American Thinker that to deal with the crisis they went to their twenty-six customers, totalling about nineteen million residents, and imposed a fifteen percent cutback. He also explained that the governor’s plan has nine tiers and the cutback he issued by executive order differs by community, ranging from 8% to 36%. For example, Beverly Hills and Palos Verdes must cut back by 36% while Los Angeles and San Diego’s cutback is 16%. Why is the governor requiring more of a cutback than the MWD?

Some say the governor’s cutback is to support the environmental regulations. Lefevre does not agree with that assessment, and believes those in the water community do not blame the environmentalists, because the drought is caused simply by a lack of water. Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Tim Donnelly, a former California Assemblyman, agree that the state disaster is caused by lack of snow and rain, and that regulations did not cause the drought, yet argue that regulations are to blame for the water “crisis” in California. 

The congressman feels the state Democrats are not telling the truth to Californians, do not have a plan, and once again will use regulations and taxes to solve the crisis. He told American Thinker that fifty percent of the water captured by the state’s infrastructure is diverted for environmental causes. He is upset that environmentalists are conveniently blaming the farmers, saying that they use eighty percent of California’s developed water, even as it accounts for only 2 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. According to the congressman, the state’s environmentalists and the mainstream media use this statistic to “Sell a bill of goods. They want to distract attention away from the incredible damage that environmental regulations have done to California’s water supply. The House of Representatives has passed three bills in the last three years that would have expanded California water supplies by rolling back damaging environmental regulations. These bills died amid opposition from Senate Democrats, Governor Brown, and President Obama.”

These regulations, including the Endangered Species Act, diverted useable water to protect salmon and a three-inch baitfish, the Delta smelt. Nunes wants Californians to understand that because of these regulations seventy-five percent of available water is going out to the ocean. He agrees that an argument “could be made to hold back more water to regulate the streams in wet years.  But we should not be doing this in dry years.”

Donnelly, now a talk show host, agrees with Nunes and insists, “The needs of Californians must trump the needs of the fish. We are at the mercy of the fish. A bureaucracy was created around saving these fish so now it is hard to backtrack. What is driving this are the budget, money, and power.”

Officials speak of residents having to conserve water and modify their behavior; yet do not seem to follow their own advice. On March 16th thousands of gallons of water poured unimpeded down the streets of Eagle Rock, as DWP attempted to fix a pipe in the reservoir. Many northeast Los Angeles residents were astonished over the hypocrisy. Because of the outrage, a top water official sent tanker trucks to capture the water, instead of wasting it in the streets. But the residents were the resourceful ones, since many took buckets to collect the water to wash their cars and irrigate their grass. Another incident occurred just a month later when there was water wasted on Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles, although not close to the amount at Eagle Rock.

Not all officials have been shortsighted. One who has been proactive is California Senator Jean Fuller (R-CA), who has been working on this issue for nine years. She explained that people are calling this current water crisis a man-made disaster because there has been no infrastructure development over the years. This short-sightedness included cancelling various projects that would have increased the number of dams and reservoirs to store water, and ignoring the doubling of California’s population in the last forty-five years. She is upset because officials did not have the fortitude to “factor in a bad year. We did not add any extra infrastructure as the population grew. We currently need more water collecting capacity, improved technology, and conservation. I hope we do not have to look at Australia as a warning. They had a fourteen-year drought and had to put a water tank on top of every house. It was only filled twice a week and if someone ran out they would have to wait. This is pretty scary.”

Everyone interviewed agrees that there is a need for multiple solutions. These include a possible filtration system, drip irrigation for farmers, building more infrastructure and desalination projects. Donnelly believes that by putting California’s brain power to work, the expensive price of desalination will go down. The high costs stems in part from its enormous energy demand and weighty environmental footprint. Currently both San Diego and Santa Barbara are contemplating building these plants. He also differs from the others in that he wants the price of water set by the market. He insists, “by doing this you would be united with your neighbor instead of pitted against one another, especially if you conserved and he did not. Government has a divide and conquer policy. This should be done along with rebuilding the infrastructure, instead of wasting the value of California labor on trains, we can put people to work that will be constructive.”

An obvious fact is that California has a lack of water caused by a drought. But the crisis is caused by the environmentalists, government regulations, officials who were not proactive, and waste. As Congressman Nunes summarized, “Our irrigation system was designed to withstand five years of drought. But the water-flow diversions caused by environmental causes has prevented California from using its irrigation system to its full capacity.”

The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.