Water, Water everywhere, and all the boards did shrink. Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink. - Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Coleridge’s poem is striking a chord with many Californians. Yes, much of the state is desert and we go through periods of little rain and drought. Of course, then we also go through periods of tremendous amounts of rain. What is going on in the state?
Insight can be learned by reading an article by Republican Devin Nunes of California. He states that in the summer of 2002, he was in a meeting with representatives from the Natural Resources Defense Council. They stated that their goal was to remove 1.3 million acres of farmland from production.
Their maps indicated that from Merced all the way down to Bakersfield and on the entire west side of the Valleys as well as part of the east side, productive agriculture would end and the land would return to some ideal state of nature.
Large Democratic majorities in Congress passed a water restriction act in 1992 that stipulated that 800,000 acre-feet of water-or 260 billion gallons- on the Valley’s west side had to be diverted annually to environmental causes with an additional 400,000 acre-feet later being diverted annually to wildlife refuges.
The Natural Resources Defense Council and other organizations filed lawsuits that forced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to issue, respectively, biological opinions on smelt (2008) and on salmon (2009). These opinions virtually ended operation of the Jones and Banks pumping plants – the two major pumping stations that move San Joaquin River Delta water – and resulted in massive diversions of water for environmental purposes.
70% of the water that enters the Delta is simply flushed into the ocean. California’s water infrastructure was designed to withstand five years of drought, so the current crisis which began about three years ago, should not be a crisis at all. During these three years, California has flushed more than 2million acre-feet of water – or 652 billion gallons – into the ocean
Because radical environmentalists need an enemy, they claim that farmers use 80% of the state’s water. That statistic is not quite accurate. Of water that is captured, farmers get 40%, cities get 10% and a full 50% goes to environmental purposes. The construction of new dams has been blocked as have water transmission facilities. Water is being flushed into the ocean to protect fish.
Even in dry years, hundreds of thousands of acre feet of runoff are flushed into San Francisco Bay to protect fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
The logical question would be: why hasn’t more surface storage been built throughout the state?
Money is not the problem. Since 2000 voters have approved five bonds authorizing $22 billion in spending for water improvements. Environmental projects have been the biggest winners. Green groups will not allow new storage.
Many aquifers now risk depletion because farmers have had to tap groundwater during wet and dry years. This was not the case before environmental diversions. This undeclared water rationing has resulted in part by fallowing land. Between 1992 and 2012, approximately 900,000 acres of land was removed from production. Since then more than 500,000 acres have been fallowed. Of course, one result is double-digit unemployment across the Central Valley.
Water in the state that is not diverted to protect fish is the water that comes from the glacial Hetch Hetchy valley in Yosemite. That water provides San Francisco with water and some hydro-power electricity. If the government mandated that Hetch Hetchy be restored to its pre-development state water and power rates would increase significantly. Since San Francisco has clout in Washington and Sacramento that won’t happen. It is just the farmers who are getting fed to the fish.