The blistering drought that has Californians timing their showers, driving dirty cars and staring at brown lawns and empty swimming pools is a “man-made disaster,” according to critics, who say the Golden State’s misguided environmental policies allow much-needed freshwater to flow straight into the Pacific.
In an average year, California gets enough snow and rain to put 200 million acres under a foot of water, but environmental opposition to dams over the last several decades has allowed the majority of the freshwater to flow into the ocean, even as the state’s population exploded to nearly 40 million people. The current drought has left farms parched and residents under strict water consumption orders, but some say it didn’t have to be that way.
“This is a man-made disaster,” said Bonner Cohen, senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research.
“Southern California is an arid part of the world where droughts — even severe droughts — are commonplace, and knowing this, you’d think the government of California would have included this mathematical certainty in its disaster preparedness planning, but the government has done nothing, not even store rain, as the population has continued to grow.”
Gov. Jerry Brown last week mandated the state’s residents cut water usage by as much as 35 percent, saying, “As Californians, we have to pull together and save water in every way we can.” Consumers face stiff penalties, forced installation of water restriction devices and even water service suspension if they don’t comply with county mandates. Commercial users face even tougher sanctions, with one county requiring them to cut usage by 80 percent.
But the vast majority of the state’s 1,400 dams and reservoirs, in the two massive systems and smaller ones that supply southern California, were built well before the 1980s. Environmentalists have since stopped the construction of water storage and delivery systems through legal and political actions. They have also fought to ensure that captured water is released into streams and the ocean — rather than the water delivery system — in order to boost fish populations and dilute the salinity of the delta.
“Droughts are nothing new in California, but right now, 70 percent of California’s rainfall washes out to sea because liberals have prevented the construction of a single new reservoir or a single new water conveyance system over decades, during a period in which California’s population has doubled,” said Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard and likely GOP presidential candidate.
“This is the classic case of liberals being willing to sacrifice other people’s lives and livelihoods at the altar of their ideology.”
Releasing the water is supposed to save the endangered fish population, including the Delta Smelt, Longfin Smelt, four runs of Chinook Salmon, the Steelhead, Green and White Sturgeon, Splittail and the Sacramento hitch, but so far the fish population has decreased, according to experts. A state survey in March found just 6 Delta Smelt – four females and two males – prompting wildlife experts to estimate the species’ population has dropped to 5,000 or fewer from the millions in the last 40 years.
The state has more than 80,000 farms and ranches, which generate more than $44 billion in annual sales. California produces more than 250 different crops, leads the U.S. in production of 75 commodities, and, according to the Water Education Foundation, is the only state to produce 12 key crops such as almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, raisins, kiwi, olives, persimmons, pistachios, prunes and walnuts.