Severe drought

While farmers have had their irrigation sources curtailed, urban residents are merely told to "limit outdoor watering."

When numbers and stories don't add up to good policy

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. may be the first chief executive of the Golden State to ever attend a California snow survey.

The politics behind the Governor’s April 1 trip to Phillips Station near South Lake Tahoe to walk in the dry grass where nearly six feet of snow should have been is understandable and poignant given drought conditions that seem to have a death-grip on the state.

Perhaps the criticism of the Governor is warranted, though it was reported in the week following his call for water rationing that he somewhat defended agriculture.

The Governor has the authority to make decisions that could have reduced the sting farmers felt by ordering large pumps that move water to San Luis Reservoir to run at capacity when we had the storm flows through the Delta. He didn’t.

Why didn't the Governor capture the runoff?

His own director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Chuck Bonham, told media during a recent conference call that smelt populations have declined to record low numbers in the Delta, adding that the Chinook Salmon population has “collapsed.”

Why have salmon and smelt populations declined so much if every effort by state and federal regulators has been to protect them?

Does that mean their efforts failed, and if so, what’s the legitimate response to this news?

To blame the drought for declines in smelt and salmon numbers is too easy and simplistic. We had a drought in 1977 that left Shasta Lake water levels lower than today. Furthermore, the cold water structure on the backside of Shasta Dam used to regulate Sacramento River releases for fish purposes, was not there in 1977, and the fish survived.

Could it be that young salmon and smelt are being consumed by bass that continue to thrive in the Delta? Perhaps the bass fishing lobby is more powerful than the Ag lobby at getting regulators to see things their way.

Whatever the case, the hue and cry of urban users to the Governor’s recent order to cut statewide potable water use by 25 percent was sudden and loud. It didn’t much matter to urban dwellers when farmers had their surface water supplies completely eliminated.

Now it matters because lawns will die.

If we’re to believe Department of Water Resource numbers that urban users consume 10 percent of the state’s allotted water and growers use another 40 percent, then it stands to reason that the user of half the state’s allotted water – the environment – could be a legitimate place to look when attempting to make the best use of our water resources.

Now that urban users are beginning to feel agriculture’s pain, perhaps city dwellers and farmers can join forces to demand a realistic accounting and scientific reasoning behind using half the state’s surface water for fish and wildlife that don’t seem to be benefiting from efforts to protect them.

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