JACKSON: California Sets Fire To The Rain

Kerry Jackson Contributor
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The Los Angeles Times recently noted that even after “a ‘miracle’ water year,” challenges are still ahead for California, and they might arrive as early as the coming winter. And what are those challenges? The San Francisco Chronicle puts it plainly: “California will soon require many cities to significantly cut water use.”

Has any state ever squandered its natural resources to the extreme degree California has?

The Times reported on Oct. 4 that the state’s “remarkable” water year, which ended Sept. 30, “saw 141% of average rainfall statewide.” Government officials said 33.56 inches of rain fell in California, “nearly twice the amount of rain recorded during the previous water year and nearly three times the amount from the year prior.” The snow total was also a record.

Another wet year could overwhelm the state’s limited storage and bring more flooding. But given that the state is removing four power-producing dams from the Klamath River that have provided flood control, a particularly wet year might not even be necessary. 

Since California precipitation can be a story of extremes, state water regulators, the Chronicle reports, “are turning their attention to the prospect of long-term water shortages, with plans for permanent statewide restrictions.”

In a proposal that’s the “first of its kind,” roughly 400 cities and suppliers “will soon have to meet state-mandated targets on water use,” which will require consumption cuts “by 20% or more within two years,” no matter how much or how little it rains, per the Chronicle. Failure to comply could result in fines of $10,000 a day.

Is it possible that no one remembers 2014’s Proposition 1, which passed with 67 percent of the vote and authorized the spending of $2.7 billion on water storage, dam and reservoir projects? It was supported by both parties, a number of water boards and districts and organizations as diverse as the Natural Resources Defense Council, the California Farm Bureau Federation and the California Chamber of Commerce.

“Proposition 1 secures our water future, keeps our family farms and businesses productive, and puts Californians to work building the new facilities we need to store, deliver, and treat water,” then-Gov. Jerry Brown, California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger and Nature Conservancy California Director Mike Sweeney promised in a statement that was included in the state’s voter information guide.

Even the San Francisco Chronicle endorsed the measure.

Nearly a decade later, there’s been so little progress in building new storage that California still can’t escape its water problems. Like the long-overdue high-speed rail megaproject that voters also approved — 15 years ago — reservoir construction has “gone almost nowhere.”

Meanwhile, funds from Proposition 1 are being used to demolish those four dams on the Klamath River. It is the largest dam removal in the history of the United States, according to the Los Angeles Times, and “perhaps even the world,” said Mark Bransom, CEO Klamath River Renewal Corp., a nonprofit that is dedicated to the destruction of the Klamath dams and is overseeing the demolition.

California might not be able to build much of anything anymore — and on the odd occasion it does, the project is far behind schedule and well over budget — but it has become quite good at breaking and burning things.

We’ve reached this point not by accident or through bad luck, but by choice. The political class, from Sacramento down, has surrendered to, then aligned itself with, activists who seem to prefer a more primitive existence. Fewer automobiles, no gas stoves, the eradication of handy consumer plastics, water usage restrictions and blackouts, are a few of the “features” of the “new” California. That much of the upper-middle and upper classes approve of their fanatical agenda only makes it that much harder for California to move forward.

For now, the state is now almost fully beyond the drought that it endured for most of the last decade. But the good times can’t last. It will take years, if not decades — or perhaps even longer — for California to see as much precipitation as it did during its “miracle” water year. The official line will claim the state is a victim of climate change, but the reality is the injury has been self-inflicted by policymakers who have refused to do what’s necessary to handle nature’s fickle temperament.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.