After All We’ve Been Through, and Now…a Drought?

Good
thing all that budget nastiness has abated in Sacramento, because someone’s mentioned the
“D” word and that’s always good for controversy.

So grab a
copy of “Chinatown”
and pop some corn. We’re in for with a drought of water but a flood of
finger-pointing.

Water
wars kicked off Friday, when state water officials called for all
Californians to cut water use
20 percent.

That came
just hours after the Department
of Water Resources announced
that it would be able to deliver only 15
percent of allocations to contractors supplying farms and cities across the
state, and federal officials said allotments to the Central Valley
Project
, which supplies about half the state’s agriculture industry, likely
would be only 50 percent.

Forecasters
say that even a wetter-than-normal February won’t be enough to pull the state
out of its third
straight summer of drought
.

How bad
is it? Water Resources says major state reservoirs are down to 43 percent
of capacity
. Statewide precipitation levels aren’t as low as they were
during the 1975-77 drought, but they’re worse than they were 1987-1992. Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is
calling it
“one of the worst water crises in (the state’s) history.”

Last
year, more than 100,000 acres were left unplanted in the Central Valley,
and experts predict that number could soar to nearly 850,000 acres this year, according
to The New York Times
.

The
impact extends far beyond California, with the
rest of the nation paying more for produce because California will grow less crops.

If the
financial world hadn’t blown to bits, California
voters might have decided how to proceed by voting on competing ballot measures
last fall.

One,
backed by Schwarzenegger, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and business and ag
interests, would have been a $9.3
billion bond
that including a chunk of money for dams – that’s another
“D” word in California
water politics. A competing
$6.8 billion plan
, supported by legislative Democrats, would have focused
on conservation.

Officials
pulled back on both due to budget problems.

So here
we are, in the middle of a drought that really couldn’t have picked a
more inconvenient financial time, defaulting to behavior easily predicted based
on historic patterns.

Northern
California blames Southern California for tending golf courses and filling
pools with precious water taken out of the Central Valley.
But then Central Valley folks bristle at the idea of water meters that would
end flat rates for as much as they can drink – or, in many cases, spill onto
the streets by overwatering.

Environmentalists
oppose anything that resembles a dam or canal. Ag interests say they conserve
as much as they can, though clearly innovations
such as drip irrigation
have improved efficiency. Efforts at the national
level, such as
the CalFed project
, take years to pass as the same differences that divide
the state divide its congressional delegation.

Here’s
something the delegation and the state should be able to come together on:
Making the state’s case a federal case, and making sure the rest of the nation
understands the consequences on their grocery bills if they want to take
another whack at whittling mighty California down to size.

Whacks
such as the ones where Republicans had a field day with a $50 million stimulus
bill appropriation to “California Bay-Delta Restoration Act,”
painting it as some touchy-feely snail darter-esque pet project of House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It’s not: It’s CalFed funding.

President
Barack Obama’s into green technology, and there’s plenty of opportunity for
that here as well, ranging from water reuse to desalination.

Yes,
Californians must do their part, too, and that message is not getting across
statewide. The
Los Angeles Times
story on the Friday announcement, for example, didn’t
mention conservation until six paragraphs into an article that painted the
drought mainly as a problem for agriculture.

It’s not.
It’s a problem for all of us, in California
and the country as a whole.