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After All We've Been Through, and Now...a Drought?

by Indy, published

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.

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