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Paying Attention To The California Water Crisis

by Susannah Kopecky, published

As the California drought goes into its third year, government authorities at last appear to be serious about addressing the situation. Rather than either ignoring the situation completely or paying lip service, it appears that some new water legislation may be in the cards for Californians.

On top of drier conditions in a state with a tendency to be susceptible to drought, part of the cause of the water crisis is man-made, as well. The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta provides a significant percentage of water to California residents; that is, until a hanful of political and environmental groups pushed for the constriction of the delta, in order to help an endangered fish, the delta smelt.

The cutting off of the delta supply has affected many, not least of which are those living in Cental Valley towns which typically rely on agriculture, and thus on the water thereabouts, for a livelihood.

By mid-August, members of the California Senate and Assembly had proposed five separate bills to address the suffering. While most of the bills offer suggestions on how to run the delta, and suggest a new, non-partisan governance board for the delta, the bills also deal with water conservation. Assembly Bill 49 would enforce a mandatory 20% water efficiency standard of use. This law would affect all California "water users," both in the agricultural and urab sectors, and could be in additional to local water use ordinances, some of which do penalize users who go above their "allotments" by charging higher rates.

Perhaps the wise move would be to ease restrictions on the delta, provide a zone for the delta smelt, and see if restricted water use really does have a positive impact on delta smelt populations; even so, the fish do not vote, whereas the people of California do.

Though water efficiency is a grand idea, and a useful concept to follow, it may be an unwise move to threaten mandatory water conservation of nearly one-quarter of all water use, without gradually easing in to such programs. Particularly in this economic crunch, few have money to spare to completely retrofit their homes with newer devices, and though a "Cash for Water-Using Clunkers" sounds like fun, we've learned that the Cash for Clunkers program isn't much more than an apparent free lunch, for which taxpayers are footing the bill.

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