A Republican in California thinks outside of the box

As so frequently happens in California, a state that’s prone to cyclical droughts, California is suffering from a severe drought. Chris Mathys, who’s gearing up to run for the House of Representatives in Fresno, which is a major city in California’s Central Valley, has an idea: It’s time to declare the Delta smelt extinct and get the federal government to stop forcing massive amounts of Sierra run-off into the ocean. It’s a creative idea and shows someone thinking outside of the boxes in which leftists traditionally trap conservatives.

For the first time since 2014, all of California is suffering from a drought, with conditions running the gamut from severe drought to extreme drought to exceptional drought. In primarily residential communities such as the San Francisco Bay Area, water rationing is in play. In the Central Valley, crops are dying.

But of course, crops have been dying for a long time in the Central Valley. The Central Valley was once America’s breadbasket, producing crops spread throughout the nation. Now, though, when you drive on I-5 through the Central Valley, where there were once abundant green fields, it looks like the Oklahoma dust bowl, circa 1930.

This isn’t a natural drought but is, instead, a man-made one. (Devin Nunes has a comprehensive look at this man-made drought.) The purpose is to protect the four-inch-long Delta Smelt, a wee little fishy unique to the Sacramento Delta. Already back in 2014, during California’s last big drought, there was an exceptionally good Wall Street Journal article (paywall) about the policy’s disaster for crops, helped along by environmental madness:

All in all, California farmers fallowed about 500,000 acres of land this year. But here's the thing: much of this land could have been productive had the state stored up more water from wet years and not flushed 800,000 acre-feet into the San Francisco Bay last winter and an additional 445,000 acre-feet this spring to safeguard the endangered delta smelt. That's enough for roughly three million households to live on and to irrigate 600,000 acres of land.

The problem is that federal regulators, prodded by environmental groups, have ruled that pumping at the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta threatens the smelt. Ergo, under the Endangered Species Act, the three-inch fish must be protected at almost any economic cost. After 300 smelt were ensnared in the pumps last winter, regulators ordered that a deluge of melted snowpack—which threatened to flood northern California reservoirs—be discharged into the ocean rather than exported to farmers in the Valley.

Chris Mathys, however, has come up with a plan to end this travesty. He wants to stop pretending that we can save the Delta smelt. Declare it extinct, he says, and start focusing on feeding people, not preserving a fish that is pretty much gone:

A hopeful for a Fresno-area seat in Congress has initiated a petition to have the embattled Delta smelt declared extinct.

Chris Mathys said Monday he took the first step toward that petition, which is a letter of intent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of California 30 days before filing the formal petition.

[snip]

“This is going to take months if not years,” he said. “Our position is we’re making major decisions on the way water is released based on a fish that in reality is extinct.”

The fish is at the center of a battle between farmers and environmentalists. Smelt species protections mean a larger water flow through the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and less for farmers.

Mathys said studies have shown the dwindling numbers of the fish, which has teetered on the edge of extinction for years. He argues there’s no reason to wait any longer to call the fish extinct, not when water is so important in the central San Joaquin Valley.

“We can’t let a technicality or government regulation get in the way of what our whole economy relies on,” he said. “Our economy relies on water.”

Aside from being sensible, what I like about Mathys’s approach is that it walks over the Democrats’ arguments. Just as Trump started to bring peace to the Middle East by ignoring the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza, Mathys is trying to bring water to California by announcing that it’s safe to discount the little Delta smelt.

IMAGE: Congress-created dust bowl sign, California’s Central Valley. Unknown creator.

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