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Water wars
July 12, 2014, 05:00 AM By John McDowell

In-N-Out and Chipotle have just raised their prices due in part to the California drought. That’s right; our lack of rain is making Double-Doubles and Burrito Bowls more expensive. It just got real, didn’t it?

The fact is, our water crisis has been building for a long time. Most of the state’s water storage and transportation system was built in the 1950s and ’60s, back when the population was around 16 million. Now the state has over 37 million residents and climbing. Outdated infrastructure means that our water resources are not managed correctly or delivered efficiently.

Fundamentally, there simply isn’t enough water for our current and future uses. Each drop allocated to one use means that other users are shut out, no matter how important water is to them, our economy or to our ecology.

There are no good choices in our water wars. Use water for agriculture and salmon runs suffer. Direct water to wildlife refuges and unemployment and poverty increases in the Central Valley. Water your lawn and endangered Delta smelt are quickly turned into fertilizer by the water pumps in Tracy.

Local governments too must make hard choices, as Foster City Vice Mayor Art Kiesel pointed out in a recent op-ed. Our lack of water directly affects local decisions, from replacing playing fields with plastic grass to restricting the kinds of trees residents can plant.

Even pot growers are involved. According to CNBC, pot growers are sucking up water at an alarming rate. The Department of Fish and Wildlife says that their unrestricted water use will lead to, “streams going dry, streams that harbor endangered fish species like salmon (and) steelhead.”

Agriculture of all kinds uses the most water in California, some 80 percent. That allows California to grow almost half of our nation’s fruit and vegetables. We also grow 100 percent of 14 specialty crops including all of our nation’s almonds, dates, figs, olives, walnuts and raisins. Yet this year, due to lack of water storage, about 2 million acres in the Central Valley will receive no water at all from the State Department of Water Resources or the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

That means higher prices for food, but it also means misery for tens of thousands of Latino farmworkers and those who depend on them and their income. Unemployment in Fresno County is running almost double the national average, while poverty dramatically increases. Three of the five most impoverished metropolitan areas of the country are found in the Central Valley and many of the counties there have poverty rates over 20 percent.

The crisis has finally awakened the political class, but squabbling among various interests has made developing a water bond a difficult task. Some want only storage and transportation projects included, while others demand environmental projects and dubious measures as their price for acceptance.

However, even former foes of water projects recognize that not building additional water infrastructure since the 1960s was a fundamental mistake. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told the Associated Press that population growth “comes anyway” but “then you don’t have enough water.” Of building new dams, she says, “this is a different day now” and that “we’ve got to measure up to it.”

As U.S. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, puts it, “You cannot recycle in enough quantities to irrigate half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables. It’s really that simple.”

Some wing-nut enviros claim that even strict conservation measures or drinking recycled water will solve all of our problems. These are some of the same people who two years ago were voting to drain San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy Reservoir — where we get most of our county’s water. Clearly, their idea of sound water policy is to simply not use any, even for drinking, bathing or eating.

The rest of us know that while additional conservation and efficient use is important, we need an “all of the above” strategy to expand our storage and distribution capabilities. That’s why getting special interests to come together for the common good in a state water bond is so important.

In August, the state Legislature will be back in session and will be hashing out the details of a water bond for the November ballot. Call state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, and tell them to work on behalf of the people for common-sense solutions. Because if extremist enviros have their way, water will stay scarce and more than your lunchtime Double-Double will increase in price.

John McDowell is a longtime county resident having first moved to San Carlos in 1963. In the intervening years, he has worked as a political volunteer and staff member in local, state and federal government, including time spent as a press secretary on Capitol Hill and in the George W. Bush administration.



Tags: water, their, state, means, double, storage,

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