FriantKern Canal

The Friant-Kern Canal conveys water from Millerton Lake near Fresno, Calif. to users from Chowchilla to Bakersfield.

Are water wars and civil unrest next for California?

A growing number of Californians are becoming increasingly fed up with regulatory actions that hide behind environmental policy and outdated law used as an excuse to flush millions of acre feet of water out to sea.

Last week the City of Fresno agreed to offer 710 acre feet of its San Joaquin River Restoration Flow water to Orange Cove Irrigation District at cost to help the struggling City of Orange Cove weather the drought.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said the transfer was done to provide residents with necessary water. An implication was given that some of this water could go to help citrus growers in the region possibly keep their trees alive as a previous allocation of zero water from the federal government still stands for much of California agriculture, including growers in the Orange Cove Irrigation District.

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Swearengin also made a direct call for state and federal officials – senior decision makers, not their junior underlings – to immediately gather in Fresno and have a “rational conversation” on solving California’s water problems.

She derided a Bureau of Reclamation decision to announce it would use Friant water to meet contractual obligations to exchange contractors via a press release instead of giving city officials the courtesy of hearing it directly from the agency.

Friant water has never been tapped like this, according to Friant General Manager Ron Jacobsma, who argued there is adequate storage in northern California to convey that water south and allow exchange contractors to pump it from the Delta. The net effect is zero water for Friant users and the likelihood that Millerton Lake will be drained by the end of summer to meet the water needs of growers who typically rely on northern California water pumped at the Delta to meet their needs.

If the USBR is trying to start a water war in California, this is one way to do it.

Moreover, federal decisions to ramp up pulse flows and run the Stanislaus River at flood stage below New Melones Reservoir to push small fish downstream, rather than hold the water back and trickle it out for growers and other human uses, ought to be a criminal act worthy of federal prison for the water managers who made those decisions.

Actions like this are drawing cities, a wide array of business interests, growers, farm workers and others tired of the rough-shod actions of regulatory agencies onto the same side of the argument. One can hope this growing number of people can effectively force regulators to do the right thing before it’s too late.

Until California leaders can do the right thing and build the water infrastructure necessary to sustain the needs of 40 million people and more, residential, agricultural and business needs for water must come before environmental needs, otherwise we risk third-world status and a growing likelihood of major civil unrest.


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Follow me on Twitter @ToddFitchette or reach me at [email protected]

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