It may surprise Sacramento and its bureaucratic hordes that large segments of California are in danger of lapsing into death throes due to a fourth year of severe drought.
But in fairness to Mother Nature and the forward thinking of leaders like Gov. Brown —not Jerry but his father the late Edmund G. Brown — the fact the Golden State is turning brown has more to do with government ineptness and myopic vision than anything else.
If you doubt that, let’s recap the drought follies.
— The state in concert with the federal government dumped 30,000 acre feet of water from New Melones late last October to lure endangered steelhead up the Stanislaus River even though they were warned by non-government biologists higher water temperatures due to low water levels could threaten their lives this summer. The same scenario is already unfolding on the Sacramento River.
— Despite reduced pumping into the California Aqueduct at Tracy and massive releases of water (a million acre feet in 2009 and 2010 alone) to help the Delta smelt that could have gone a long way toward cushioning impacts of the drought, an April survey could only come up with one of the miniature fish.
— Blanket edicts against water transfers have chilled well-thought out long-term strategies to reduce water consumption by agriculture. The South San Joaquin Irrigation District, as an example, wants to pressurize its entire system to reduce water consumption by farmers between 30 and 40 percent while at the same time increasing harvests. It is an expensive proposition with the only way to fund it without asking for government handouts is from the sale of water that the district saves. The state edict essentially says any “surplus water” becomes the property of Sacramento.
— Many Southern California cities are falling significantly short of state-mandated water conservation goals while the state cuts off water deliveries to farmers. South state grass stays green while fields that feed America go fallow.
— The Department of Water Resources — unable to enforce its directive for post-1914 water right holders to curtail diversion as noted by a 31 percent compliance rate —decides essentially to declare martial law and basically seize pre-1914 water rights. Then less than two weeks later, State back tracks saying they were just kidding as they have no legal right to do so without going through due process.
In short, the severity of the drought — to a degree — is being manufactured by state government.
Yes, we are in a serious drought situation. But it doesn’t help having the state making unilateral decisions squandering water for “environmental needs” without little or no questioning while pulling the plug on water for farms and — with their reckless edicts usurping water rights when they had no clear authority to do so — for urban areas such as Mountain House.
The capricious one-size fits all edicts that apparently aren’t run past the folks in the legal department first shows little understanding of the complicated and interconnected world of California water.
The Department of Water Resources is supposed to be the ultimate authority in understanding water. Instead they act like a bunch of neophytes unwilling to venture outside of their Sacramento cubicles while making sweeping decrees and then failing to enforce them when it comes to urban conservation while at the same time beating farmers into submission, bending over backwards for environmental interests, and ignoring the law in an attempt to bully water right holders.
There is no leadership in Sacramento when the subject comes to water whether it is how to make it stretch or what to do when there is too much of it.
The state’s venture into regulating ground water is something that a reasonable person would argue is needed.
That reasonable person, though, would have to live outside of California and not have witnessed the Keystones Cops approach the Department of Water Resources is taking to the overall drought crisis.
The state is getting more and more reckless. That is not a good thing.
Nearly two weeks ago pre-1914 water right holders were stunned by what they immediately saw as an illegal seizure of their water that has been legally adjudicated under the laws and the constitution of the State of California. And while many filed suit, they all prepared to comply.
What will happen the next time the state issues a water edict and those it impacts are convinced they have no legal standing to do so? The approach of complying but then suing to protect perceived rights may go to the way side.
By running roughshod over water right law that the Department of Water Resources is supposed to understand better than anyone else they have set the stage for civil disobedience.
That’s not what is needed in the middle of a drought crisis.
Nor is the same-old, same-old solutions.
But we are getting both from Sacramento.
May God help California.
Given how well Sacramento is managing the drought even if you don’t believe in a higher authority than the big box full of state water bureaucrats at 1416 9th Street in Sacramento we’d better all pray for rain.