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The Big Gulp as the mother of all water wars

by Bob Morris, published

The water wars never really go away even if they aren't always in the public view. But be assured, the politics of water in California is generally more akin to a street fight than anything else. The problem, as always, is that a multitude of people and business interests lay claim to California's water and there simply isn't enough of it to go around.

So it has to be portioned out. That's what leads to conflicts and to the water wars.

One of the oldest and most protracted battles centers on the Sacramento Delta and who will get the water in that imperiled ecosystem with its aging levees. Indeed, the subject of how to save the Delta and how to replace the levees could easily be the subject of several articles. But the primary battleground now is Rep. Devin Nunes' (R-CA) Big Gulp plan to siphon off an additional 1.4 million acre feet of water from the Delta for use by Central Valley agriculture (1 acre foot is about 326,000 gallons). The effect of the bill has been to toss a match on gasoline.

Senators Feinstein and Boxer have vowed to block the bill should it reach the Senate. Nunes responded by saying "Now they've got to fight for their environmental wacko friends." Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) countered, saying the Big Gulp is "one of the worst bills that I've seen in a long, long time, and I've seen some real turkeys over the years."

Just by looking at a map, you can mostly predict how a politician or water district will respond to the Big Gulp. Those in Central Valley support it, those in northern California, especially in the Bay Area, don't.  Silicon Valley gets 50% of its water from the Delta. If someone else starts getting more, then they may get less. 

Agriculture gets 80% of the water in California. City dwellers suggest that if farmers would conserve 10% of their water usage then all the shortages would vanish.  Hmm, well, it is easy to ask someone else to sacrifice. Cities of course need to conserve too (and many of course already are.)

Nunes may be a right-winger who thinks environmentalists are wackos. However, he carefully documents and explains his position, both on his blog and in his Distorted Water 2011 Update. Indeed, he uses the Internet skillfully to get his points across. Maybe someday all Congressional members will be this net-savvy. Basically, Nunes sees a lack of water in the Central Valley as being a prime cause of unemployment, and he posits that the paucity is the result of over-regulation and stifling governmental control, and not drought or other natural events.

A post on his blog sums up his position.

[Majority Whip] Kevin McCarthy said "that California's snow-pack had reached 165% this year but that farmers would not get 100% of their water. 'That's like a company having its best profits ever but telling its employees they will only get 80% of their paycheck,' said McCarthy. 'That's unacceptable.'

The Central Valley produces prodigious amounts of food both for California and the nation. It is also a major economic driver. The Big Gulp is a telling and prime example of the continuing water wars between rural and urban areas. Both sides want the water, but there's not enough to satisfy everyone.

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