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Emergency drought bill another water grab

OpEd

By

By Mike Thompson and Doris Matsui

California has an innovative history. We solve big problems and the results have ripple effects all over the world. But when it comes to water policy, we’re unable to make progress.

Unfortunately, the latest proposal made by some California members of Congress makes progress even more difficult.

They claim their proposal (H.R. 3964) will help alleviate the drought and lessen California’s water problems. In reality, it’s nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to use the statewide drought as an excuse to steal water from Northern California.

Proponents of this idea argue that we should immediately pump unlimited amounts of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta for south-of-Delta agriculture.

This argument ignores several important facts. First, it will not help alleviate the drought. Even if we pumped as much water south as possible, Central Valley farmers still wouldn’t have enough. That’s because a lack of pumping isn’t the problem. The problem is the lack of rain and snow. There is no more water to pump. Northern California is in a severe drought, with reservoirs less than 50 percent full.
Second, it shows zero regard for the fishers, farmers, families and businesses dependent on the Delta for their livelihoods. Pumping water south would further exacerbate the extreme drought conditions in the Delta and its surrounding regions, and create enormous economic hardships.

The health of the Delta is integral to California’s economy. It supports thousands of jobs in farming, fishing and tourism. The University of the Pacific’s Economic Sustainability Plan found the Delta itself has an economic output of more than $4 billion and provides 23,000 jobs. Pumping more water south of the Delta puts these jobs at risk.

Third, the bill amounts to a federal government bailout for those agriculture interests in the Central Valley who, despite the high risk of extended dry conditions, planted permanent tree crops that require a steady supply of water. They did so knowing such a supply would not always be available.

Fourth, it would harm drinking water for people across Northern California. When clean water is pumped south, the level of salt water in the Delta increases.

Finally, it guts environmental protections and halts the restoration of the San Joaquin River, an agreement to reconnect the river with the Pacific Ocean and reintroduce salmon flows. You cannot overstate the importance of this restoration. Salmon is big business in California. The industry supports tens of thousands of jobs. When the commercial fisheries were closed in 2008, an estimated 10,000 jobs were jeopardized.

Proponents of the Republican water proposal claim those who want to protect the Delta care more about fish than they do people. Statements like these cheapen this debate and insult the intelligence of Californians who know the issue is far more complicated.

State officials have concluded that environmental regulations, such as those that protect the Delta smelt, salmon and other endangered wildlife populations, are not limiting water supplies for agriculture. It’s a lack of rain and snow, not environmental protections, that cause water supply shortages.

The Republicans’ proposal is not the answer to California’s water challenges. Their effort pretends to help one part of the state, while causing real harm to another.

Yet despite a lack of sound science, transparency and open debate, the House Republicans are planning to jam their proposal through the House of Representatives this week. Political games like this serve no purpose. They divide our state and set California back at a time when our state needs real solutions.

So let’s focus on real solutions. There is no silver bullet to address California’s drought, but rather a whole toolbox of remedies that are long overdue.

Congress should invest in an all-of-the-above approach that includes more water conservation, more water recycling and more underground and above-ground storage (where it makes sense).

Congress should also create a Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority, as we have had for transportation since 1998, to get local water infrastructure projects done. This would allow municipalities to build local water infrastructure at a lower cost.

And we should amend the Bureau of Reclamation’s Title XVI program to include many more wastewater recycling projects to create more supply.

With investments like these, we can collect millions of gallons of new water for all of California, help farmers better plan, and create good jobs without risking the health of the Bay Delta, its wildlife and the families, farmers and small businesses dependent on it for their livelihoods.

California is in a true state of emergency when it comes to water. In 2013 California received less rain than in any other year since it became a state in 1850. Our people deserve better than divisive political stunts. They deserve solutions.

• • •

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, represents the 5th Congressional District. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, represents California’s 6th Congressional District.

  • Phineas Worthington

    If Mr. Thompson is serious, then he should support the Cadiz project.

    • Chris Scott

      The Cadiz Valley Groundwater Storage Project is quite a bit more complicated than what I think you mean by a private water production venture. Cadiz is a publically traded company that sells ground water it mines to municipal water districts in So Cal.

      The company is very heavily regulated under state laws, agencies, permitting processes and lengthy review. Local municipalities and water districts apply their own requirements. The drilling and amount of water drawn is subject to strict EIA/EIR requirements based on geological and hydrological science with periodic re-evaluation periodically. Many interest groups pursue their priorities through the regulatory and court venues over years in this case over ten plus years.

      The price Cadiz can charge for water is regulated with a fixed profit margin above costs. Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD) is the lead managing agency and overseer in partnership with five other So Cal water districts.

      As a publically traded company answerable to stock holders and their demand for returns, Cadiz increases profits by investing in a diversified product portfolio which includes a number of agricultural products one being wine grapes.

      Cadiz operates in the same manner as a large numbers of independent companies that produce water, electricity and gas to local municipalities’ public services agencies. PG&E is one similar company though not identical in operations or regulation.

      If you would like to take a look at a desalination plant that will operate in a similar utility service/product provider San Diego has a plant under construction.

      Having described yourself as a libertarian, the libertarian philosophy of private ownership and market solutions while intellectually very simple, neat and satisfying never survives application to the real world with its inherent complexity, constant change and competing interests (i.e., power, money, politics, etc.) Notwithstanding no two libertarians agree on what a libertarian solution is, what it means or how to go about its implementation.

      • Phineas Worthington

        Never described my self as a libertarian, I prefer a classical liberal. There is a big difference.

        And the project? Do you support it or not? Does Mr. Thompson support it or not? That is the question. Are you and others of like mind opposed to allowing new water resources to be created? There are many SoCa pols who are opposing this project. And that the markets are hamstrung with byzantine controls and regulations is very true. They are obstacles to innovation and trade, not facilitators of it as proper law and regulation ought to be.

        • Chris Scott

          This is one of those debates where you might be tempted to say, “if I’m not a liberal may lightening strike me dead.” Please resist the temptation for as sure as the sun rises in the east, you will, very unfortunately, become very deceased.

          The rest is academic. It is not the 18th century. I met Burke and Rousseau in college, I can assure you you are neither.

          Your vocabulary and language you use expressing your views, your policy positions and opinions align completely with those of conservatives and the right. Government is coercion and confiscation. The minimum wage destroys business. Taxes and regulation are the causes, less of each the universal solutions. Human and commercial activity should be left to the unfettered market.

          Then again you are free to call yourself whatever you like. However neither liberals nor conservatives will recognize or accept both your label and your positions.

          You were mistaken in representing the Cadiz Valley Groundwater Storage Project as a private company and the nature of the project, actually you omitted the latter entirely.

          Energy Policy;

          George Bush opened the flood gates with federal land leases in 2006-2008. Finding companies were drilling on barely 1/3 of them the Obama administration cut back on new leases. During the same period issuing record numbers of drilling permits. Oil and gas production from existing wells reached all time record highs during each of the last three years.

          All of the above means funding energy r&d into all sources; not just oil, gas and coal and lip service to solar, wind, etc., as was the policy during the previous administration. Under this administration the US has virtually achieved energy independence as the data below demonstrates;

          1. The oil produced by the “super major” companies accounts for less than 15% of the total world supply. Over 80% of the world’s reserves of oil and natural gas are controlled by national oil companies. Of the world’s 20 largest companies, 15 are state-owned companies.

          2. The US has been a net exporter of energy for the last two years;

          3. “WASHINGTON, February 6, 2014 ─ American Petroleum Institute: API welcomed a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce revealing that rapid growth in the U.S. oil and natural gas industry helped to make 2013 a record yearfor U.S. trade. In 2013, the total U.S. trade deficit for goods shrank by $38.3 billion, while the trade deficit in petroleum products dropped by $56.2 billion, due to lower energy imports and increased export.”

          4. Large numbers of gas wells have been idled in the last year due to a glut resulting in falling gas prices.

          All the information you could ever want and more on tech, innovation, science, medicine, is available out there in the media; print, internet, cable, etc., if you want to find it. Maybe you’re concentrating on too few sources of information like fox.

          • Phineas Worthington

            So back to the original q, are you for or against new water production and storage by private, public/private, public, monopolistic entities?

            A yes or no will suffice.

          • Chris Scott

            I’l answer your question if you answer mine.

            Are there no circumstances, scientific findings nor environmental impacts that would cause you to oppose the Cadiz Water Project.

          • Phineas Worthington

            Can’t even answer a simple yes or no question just like Mr. Thompson.

          • Chris Scott

            If I were to respond as you replied to me it would be;. “You believe in rape, pillage and burn. Just like Eaton and Mulholland taking water for LA from the Owens Valley turning it into a desert.”

            But I’ll error on the side of believing you would not repeat what they did. And neither would I. So my answer to your question would be, it depends.

            Wikipedia; California Water War;
            “The California Water Wars were a series of conflicts between Los Angeles, farmers and ranchers in the Owens Valley of Eastern California. As Los Angeles grew in the late 1800s, it started to outgrow its water supply. Fred Eaton, mayor of Los Angeles, realized that water could flow from Owens Valley to Los Angeles via an aqueduct. The aqueduct construction was overseen by William Mulholland and was finished in 1913. The water rights were acquired through political fighting and, as described by one author, “chicanery, subterfuge … and a strategy of lies”.

            By the 1920s, so much water was diverted from the Owens Valley that agriculture became difficult. This led to the farmers trying to destroy the aqueduct. Los Angeles prevailed and kept the water flowing. By 1926, Owens Lake at the bottom of Owens Valley was completely dry due to water diversion.”