Monday, January 11, 2010

California Water Crisis Recap

State Senator Lois Wolk gave her 5th Senate District constituents a sobering assessment of the 2009 special session water legislation.
Now we are left with a new water policy full of loopholes, irresponsibly financed, and replete with vague promises unlikely to produce a positive outcome.
California Greening authors would agree with that as well as her call for a complete re-structuring of the process.

The problems with the recent legislation are easy to document.
  • The 5 delta counties were not part of the negotiations that led to Steinberg's grand compromise sell out.
  • There is no enforceable definition of the flow of fresh water required to keep the Delta from becoming a salt water marsh.  That has major consequences for all CA agriculture and even SoCal urban water sourcing. 
  • This significant increase in bonded indebtedness is irresponsible when the state is blocked by Grover Norquist aides in the Republican Party from balancing that with tax increases.  You can not continue to add to the indebtedness without providing a method of paying it back. 
  • The only way that the Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010 made it through the state legislature was to load it up with more pork than an Iowa hog farm special projects so that each member could go back home and say "see what I got for you." 
We can not agree with Wolk when she addresses the highly politically charged system of priority water rights that is currently the law in California. Wolk mentioned water rights first in her list of problems.
Respected legal experts representing Northern California water agencies warned that the package lacked water rights protections and would uproot the decades old priority system of water rights, risking the municipal and agricultural water supplies of Northern California for the benefit of water exporters to the South. These legal experts were discounted and the protections were omitted.
She also made the continuation of the status quo as the key item in her list of actions required to set things right, combining it with the ecological protection requirement.
Water flows necessary to sustain the Delta's ecosystem and communities must be protected. Historic safeguards, including the priority water rights system, must be upheld to protect Northern California communities, save California's largest salmon runs, and restore the health of the fragile Delta estuary.
That only confuses the issue. We agree that we need to manage the flow of fresh water through the delta with an eye toward preventing the entire estuary from becoming too salty for use. But, the question of preserving historical water rights is quite separate and needs to be addressed separately. I suggest starting to read the comments on this from co-blogger Martin Zehr here.

Green Party positions on water planning are based on regional water plans that consider all of the uses and potential uses within a water shed. That will surely challenge the water rights of some. But anything less than that only puts off the water wars for the next decade and we show no signs of becoming magically smarter.

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