It is time for California to realize it is no longer on the cusp of change and that it is no longer the Best of the West. The issue of water management is just one example of California’s inability to forthrightly address significant issues with clarity and decisiveness. The theme of our discussion today seeks to ask the question of all Californians: What is the priority for water use in California: the economy or the environment? Two factors stand evident in the question: One is that regions do not agree on priorities, and two is that there are often situations where the environmental uses are consistent with economic development.
If we are to address the issues of water planning for the future, we need to empower the regions to make their own decisions for their own futures. But we need to stop enabling addictive water uses by diversion and transfers. Texas has regional planning processes that enable their state plan to project their state priorities given their drought. They have compiled statistics on water use in the state that even the PPIC indicates is NOT possible to do in California (see the note under Table 2.2 (page 86 in the MANAGING CALIFORNIA’S WATER PPIC Report). California needs to stop financing mega-projects through state bonds and begin to establish a Trust Fund for water dedicated projects as exists in Colorado. California needs regional planning processes and regional Public Welfare Statements that define their water budgets, establish priority uses and engage stakeholders and users, as was seen in the Middle Rio Grande of New Mexico.
It is not true that we can have it all. But neither is it true that public trust requires regions to divert their water resource to other regions of the state. When people who are not impacted by water allocation decisions get to make them in the State Legislature, you establish a disconnect between government and those being governed. Political partisanship has replaced administrative responsibility for wise use and efficiency. Both rural and urban users in California have increasingly demonstrated greater political leverage and less wisdom in regards to water supplies and uses. Why bother? There are no inputs from competing users. And there are no parameters for uses that bear a real relation to the carrying capacity of the regional water supply.
California has gone past the stage of turning rivers into pipelines and prefers to build aqueducts without ever bothering to recognize the inherent conflict with the concept of sustainability in so doing. As a coastal state this situation is an inherent contradiction. Sustainability is a valid criterion for water management. Sources of supply can be developed on a large scale without competing with the environment. The state of Texas has put on line a desal plant in El Paso in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert and is converting it to solar. The state of Israel is looking to implement desal for 65% of its water supply. The PPIC admits that desal remains “a small proportion of statewide water supplies” (MANAGING CALIFORNIA’S WATER, p. 267). The point is NOT to promote desalination. The point is to propose there are greater sources of supply for regions than simply transfers and diversions. These sources can be defined by the regions themselves.
Precedents have been created that presume the entitlement of particular regions to benefit from the resources of other at great cost. But, one needs to only recall the water war from the Owens Lake diversion to recognize that it has not been done equitably and fairly. It is better to establish new precedents than to rely on the negative experiences of the past.
Economics or the environment? How can the residents of our city of San Francisco learn the impact of diverting Hetch-Hetchy when there is no real cost to them? Why are the commercial fishermen of the Delta required to sacrifice their living so that the farmers of the Central Valley are able to be provided to protect theirs? The real choices are for us to make ourselves. The shared sacrifices must be founded on the common good. Those who make the decisions need to be the ones who have to live with the consequences of them.