Water Policy – Key Themes
•Better public understanding of the Myths and Facts
•More representative planning processes are needed
•Public benefit must trump water profiteering
California has gone through three years of drought, and there is no assurance that the problems will end anytime soon. Massive media campaigns are mounted as each segment of our state anxiously attempts to secure more water for itself in any way possible, spreading blame recklessly, claiming all of the benefits for their own local use, and creating imaginary problems that Californians are asked to solve with our pocketbooks.
We need to separate facts from fiction, expose the water myths for what they are, and insist on sound planning for a sustainable future.
Water Myths: There are many who would place all of the blame for unemployment in the San Joaquin Valley on the lack of water for irrigation. This is misleading. There are many sources of unemployment but water reduction is not one of them.
There is the fable of the Delta Smelt, the little fish that everyone blames for shutting down the pumps. However, only about one-third of the cutback in water deliveries to Westlands Water district could be attributed to environmental actions. The rest is attributable to the drought, while districts on the East Side of the San Joaquin Valley have been receiving 100% of their deliveries.
If California is to have a sound, sustainable water policy, then we must put aside these political water myths and begin to deal with facts.
Water Facts: There is only a fixed amount of water on this planet. Most of it is salty. The freshwater we use falls as rain, or as snow in the Sierras. Building more dams will not increase the amount of water that we have. It could be an overly expensive action, since there is already not enough rain to fill California's reservoirs now, and climate change threatens an even drier future.
We don't know how much water is required to maintain the Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta as a fresh water estuary. If we fail to answer this correctly, the salty water from San Francisco Bay will flood the estuary, ruining the farmlands there, and we will have to shut down the aqueducts to avoid sending that contaminated water to Southern California. That is an economic catastrophe that must be avoided.
For years, the taxpayers of California have been subsidizing the delivery of water for agricultural use. It is only in recent years that this publicly funded water intended for agriculture has, in turn, been re-sold for urban use at a significant profit. None of that profit was returned to the citizens of California.
The water that we pump from the ground needs to be replenished or the land will eventually sink. In some parts of the state, ground water pumping has left entire communities below sea level. Land subsidence due to ground water pumping has caused some parts of the San Joaquin Valley to sink over 20 ft. since records were initially kept. The Santa Clara County community of Alviso dropped below sea level and now must be protected by levees. Yet, California has never measured its ground water on a regular basis. We do not know how fast the aquifers are being depleted, or how much water is being pumped each year. Those who pump that water use all of their political might to make sure these measurements never happen.
What We Propose
Representative Water Planning
Planning for a sustainable water future for California requires that all interested parties have a seat at the table and come to a consensus as to what priorities will prevail and how they will be administered. Legislating solutions for the Delta water without involving those who live and work there will never accomplish this.
•California needs to change the way we plan for and manage our water supplies. The principle of bioregionalism - living within the means of a region's natural resources - should give direction to future water policies. It begins with the application of Green Values to water.
•California must develop regional water plans that assure public input into the state water plan that in turn must be based on sound science and on priorities that are in the public interest.
•Private profiteering must never be allowed from publicly subsidized water. If water secured at agricultural rates is re-sold at a profit for non-agricultural use, then the public must benefit -- not private profiteers.
•Environmental justice, ecological impact, and depletion of groundwater supplies need to be integrated with the ongoing process for approval of new water withdrawals.
•The legislature should re-work the 2010 Water Bond and improve it by revising the priorities, re-considering regional impacts, stripping out the special interests, and then re-submit it for public approval.