When 50, 40 and 10 don't add up in policy decisions

When 50, 40 and 10 don't add up in policy decisions

It doesn’t take much these days to find irony in the statements of the politically appointed.

A press release from the California Water Resources Control Board carries this quote from water board chairwoman Felicia Marcus: “A bit of rain means we should be turning off our sprinkler systems and avoiding irrigating outdoors as much as possible while remembering to protect our trees.”

“Protect our trees?” Were California citrus farmers given the choice this year to protect their trees? I personally watched hundreds of acres of citrus groves destroyed this year for lack of water.

“Turning off our sprinkler systems … as much as possible?” Why wasn’t that call made mandatory with the governor’s drought proclamation last January?

The California Water Resources Control Board is now touting a website to show per-capita daily water use throughout the state. Of course those numbers only serve to show what urban users on meters are consuming as private wells are not yet mandated to have meters on them.

The website likely comes under the guise and premise that we can conserve our way out of this drought, as if the 20-plus million people added to California since we last built any appreciable surface storage and the increased and unrestricted allocations for environmental purposes had no effect on the state’s water supply or infrastructure.

Telling California residents to cut their daily water use by a few gallons a day may be philosophically prudent if we’re asking everyone to share the pain; why make urban curtailments voluntary while farmers are left with no choice in the matter?

But let’s not even look there for the moment. The California Farm Water Coalition recently ran with official numbers reporting that 50 percent of the state’s developed water supply goes for environmental purposes. This compares to about 40 percent which goes to farms (not this year), and the remainder to urban uses.

Why is cutting from the 10 percent so vital when half the state’s developed water is used for environmental purposes? Where’s the logic in kindly asking those who use 10 percent of the water to voluntarily cut back, simply taking it from those who in a normal year use about 40 percent of it while the single-largest use of California’s allocated water supply is left with unrestricted flows?

Are there cutbacks to environmental uses of water that could legitimately be made during dire conditions like the current drought? How does the governor’s call in his drought declaration to preserve human health and safety fit with drought-year pulse flows for salmon and steelhead?

Had California not built dams and created millions of acre feet of surface storage over the years, the rivers those reservoirs feed on a year-round basis would run dry several months of the year on a consistent basis.

Environmental protection is noble. Forcing it at the cost of human lives and property, as happened this year in numerous cases, is morally reprehensible.

Kudos to California residents for learning to use less water. You’re in good company: farmers from El Centro to Tulelake have been doing such for decades as regulatory constraints and political fiat took the water they used to grow food free from the kinds of pesticide and bacterial residues state regulators say they sometimes find in imported produce.

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