I've been trying to keep up with both the Federal Courts in California and the State Legislative bodies as they face a water crisis, a 21st century extension of the decades - long uneasiness between residents of Northern and Southern California. This isn't news. Even before some guy named Mulholland and the political clout of LA's Department of Water and Power began their grab of Mono Lake, the Owens River and many feeder streams of the Eastern Sierra, ranchers had fenced off water sources from farmers and settlers, intending to secure a water supply in what is naturally a desert. Most of the state is dry, arid land if nature were allowed to take its course. But it's also an attractive land, a temperate oasis for people whose home states or countries are without the natural features and appeal of The Golden State. So Westward they flocked, and water delivery through the decades has been a politically charged topic in the Legislature, as supply has been outstripped by demand in even an abundant rain and snow year.
Now we're in trouble again. And we in the North state are waiting to see how short the short end of the stick will be. The majority of votes in both the state Assembly and Senate are based in SoCal. Should push come to shove, a great steamroller will cruise north, damming what's left of free running rivers, building huge canals and aqueducts to circumvent the systems already in place. It appears our February ballot may contain two competing water measures. One will be full of new and expensive water delivery projects, building those dams and canals to which I've alluded. The second measure is based in the logic of conservation rather than the continued plunder of our natural resources. I can hardly wait for the TV commercials, but I'll predict right now the measures will provide for an ugly, expensive, ruthless campaign.
What we've missed over the years has been obvious. We have so many people we just can't ensure all will be provided what we've come to consider our basic necessities. Add to that a judicial twist...
In August, a federal court ruled in favor of the Delta Smelt, a tiny, endangered fish and resident of the Sacramento - San Joaquin River system. Bleedoffs of massive amounts of water to farms in the lower San Joaquin Valley and to the LA Metro area have caused a precipitous decline in the smelt populations of the Delta. That striped bass, salmon and steelhead have also been significantly affected is obvious to a lifelong Delta fisherman such as myself. But it took the Delta Smelt to stir a ruling that shocked the State: draws from the Delta must be cut back as much as 60% during certain times of the year to facilitate a hoped comeback for this tiny warrior. Maybe I'll market a Delta Smelt 1, LA DWP 0 t - shirt or something.
But despite the current water worries as we head toward winter with our fingers crossed, battles loom large in our immediate future. They will lie in the water initiatives themselves, and we as Californians have to have a gut - check. We just can't support the population we've developed. A "normal" rainfall year will still leave us short these days. And should this drought continue into spring, we will experience a disaster. Not only will deliveries for drinking water come up short of demand, the richest farming state in the country will have to decide what not to grow - meaning agricultural layoffs, fallow fields, and very, very expensive produce, chicken and beef. So both sides, North and South, will have to meet in the middle and come to realize that rampant, unchecked growth can no longer be the Order of the Day. It's time to call a truce, to take a look at our water situation, and realize that as far as population goes, enough is enough. Oh, yeah, one more thing - better pray for rain.