Shasta Dam

Water the cornerstone to building a better California

If there’s one thing California is known for is its urban growth.

It doesn’t have to be careful or planned: that’s not the point. Urban growth is how cities build empires and how those running these empires get elected to state and federal office or, in some cases, raid public coffers for their own nefarious benefit.

Recently the City of Fresno updated its general plan. A general plan is a city’s roadmap for development and, in the case of Fresno’s recent update, can be hotly-contested political bombs for a variety of reasons.

Discussions like this are important because they drive land-use policies. Sadly, many land-use discussions in California seem to lack a serious consideration of one very important component of land use.

Water.

Fresno’s general plan update is important for that reason. As the state’s fifth-largest city, Fresno has the capacity (and now the planned intention) of using much more of this liquid gold. Not only is water precious and vital to human life; it is largely ignored.

City planners will claim they factored in the water needs of their proposed empires, but it’s hard to believe when these discussions tend to center on chasing pipe dreams that have nothing to do with conveying water.

The last time California officials approved a significant water project in the state John F. Kennedy was president; that’s how motivated California’s elected officials are to ensuring there’s enough of this life-sustaining liquid around for everyone.

California’s reactionary state legislature passed laws in 2014 that force groundwater sustainability plans for the first time ever. While understandably necessary, these laws are an unintended consequence of California’s unwillingness to address significant and necessary changes in water and environmental law and policy. What negative unintended consequences will result from this action that was moved through the legislative process with haste?

Lawmakers and policy wonks will not need to implement “no-growth” policies if water becomes largely unavailable for urban and agricultural needs; they will be forced upon the state as water sources dry up and even more people flee California in an exodus not seen since biblical times.

As for the Fresno example, similar discussions are taking place up and down California as city councils debate politically-charge terms such as “in-fill” and “sprawl” and Ag proponents line up to complain that spreading city footprints (particularly in the Central Valley) will forever pave over productive farmland and reduce our domestic food supply.

Perhaps the groundwater laws signed earlier this year by the Governor will force cities to look long and hard at their own water resources and start leaning on state and federal officials to do what they’ve failed to do for decades regarding water infrastructure.

Together the people of California and our most local of elected officials (the cities and counties) severely outnumber state and federal representatives; perhaps it’s time to flex the political muscle behind those numbers and force the legislature and Congress to act in the best interest of the public they claim to serve.

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