This op-ed in the Orange County Register was helpful. I can understand most interest-based positions, like people in the Delta thinking that through-Delta conveyance will be an implicit guarantee for their levees, or homeowners wanting to pretend that aging water mains will last forever or cost nothing to replace. So if you’re a water contactor or an urban water user, I can take a rough guess at your position on water. But I have a real hard time understanding water positions based on mainstream conservative/liberal ideologies. They aren’t usually responding to a detailed water landscape. They’re responding to imaginary things (Reisner for the liberals; FoxNews for the conservatives), so they say things about water that sound crazy to people who know about water*. Anyway, I’m pretty sure I’m the demon liberal in that op-ed, so it was good to understand his picture of me. My dear readers, please don’t be shocked when I tell you that it is not a perfect match for my actual beliefs, here in the intersection of Liberal and Water.
This purposeful drying up of the San Joaquin Valley is part of a “green utopian experiment,” House argued. Since 1992, state policy has been pulling more and more water out of agricultural uses and diverting it to environmental protection. “They just keep coming at you.”
Environmentalists couldn’t care less about the smelt, a little bait fish. They will use any species or any excuse to shut down water resources to people and the farms that feed people. Environmentalists love doomsday scenarios, which give them the opportunity to control water (or land) to achieve their real goal of limiting growth and constraining the human use of nature. They want people to be crammed into high-density human islands and the rest of the land preserved under tight government control.
First things first. Actually, I care about the smelt itself. I don’t expect to see one, but I don’t have to see a fish to know that it is there, living a busy fish life and adding darting little glints of life to marshy sloughs. I want the creatures of our world to be thriving on their own terms, because that’s how it was before people started messing with it. When I hear that species are threatened, I want to know why humans had to go breaking something, and what good we got for the trouble we’ve caused to the beings around us.
Attributing doomsday scenarios to environmentalists is another interesting twist. Seems like lots of people in water politics have done that recently. I bring up severe climate change impacts to suggest that we would prefer a planned transition to much less California ag to an unplanned freefall. I also invoke great big floods and old levees to say that the Delta won’t remain as is for long, and to promote my view that we should not rely on it for drinking water (and that people shouldn’t trust their lives to a Delta levee). But I’m a mild optimist compared to people who are trying to eke political gain from drought and pumping water restrictions in isolated areas of the San Joaquin Valley. Those are the people saying things like “dust bowl”, talking about a food crisis, desertification, and dead orchards. They’re the ones who have to convince voters that a fairly normal agricultural year was so horrific that a Peripheral Canal is necessary.
Mostly, I wanted to object to that last sentence about cramming people into high-density human islands with the rest of the land under tight government control. Well, of course I want that, but he’s forgetting the working landscapes aspect of California. As a good hippie, I also want to eat local produce. Which means I want local farms. A lot of them, actually. Since I’m so urban and effete, I’d like to see those farms worked by people who live in adorable towns that I can drive through along the 99. I’d like to see farms that can keep a stable income for farm families, and support farmworkers in a lifestyle that I would recognize as first world. Because I’m such a bleeding heart, I’d even pay more for my food if it accomplished those two things. Seriously, Mr. Conservative-thinker-who-is-describing-an-environmental-despot, I have bigger plans than Urban Arks in the midst of Untouched Habitat. When we shaded the maps for the Green Utopia, we definitely colored in Hippie Organic Farming, and lots of it.
I had one other big objection to the op-ed, because this just kills me.
Maybe it’s telling that this “era of limits” nonsense is taking hold again as the state prepares for a possible return to the governorship of Jerry Brown, who first put these dubious ideas into practice during his 1975-83 administration.
The concept that we’re in an era of limits is nonsense to this guy? You know, I fault the old-school engineers for over-reliance on concrete, but actual engineers and scientists don’t ignore data the way ideologues do. I’m sure that I wouldn’t agree with everything someone from the State Water Contractors is promoting. But if we sat down and looked at overdraft in the west Valley, they wouldn’t pretend to me that subsidence isn’t a problem. They wouldn’t say there is no limit to what you can pull out of an aquifer, that the ground isn’t falling. They wouldn’t say that the falling ground isn’t cracking the Delta-Mendota Canal. They are real sure about the costs of changing run-off patterns and losing snowpack.
Which is why ideologues aren’t real interesting to people in the field. People who’ve learned a whole lot and put a lot of time into protecting their interests in this complicated system can’t believe an ideologue that contradicts their experience. Even the strokes from hearing someone confirm your biases don’t feel that good when the same person talks crazytalk in the next sentence. It is hard enough to talk to laypeople about Water. Talking to laypeople who are trying to cram the whole topic into some other arbitrary framing is that much more dissonant.
*’The problem is cotton in the desert!’ or ‘We will starve without Chinese carrots!’ Both are completely unrelated to anything that happened in California ag in the past few years.