KMPH, the Fox News Affiliate for Fresno, is running a story on how the pumping restrictions and regional water scarcity on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley are threatening the military readiness of the nation. I am skeptical, but the story lists three things that apparently threaten “half of the navy’s total offensive combat strike power”*. According to the air station base commander, Captain Knapp, the lack of water on the west side:
1. Increases the number of bird strikes. Somehow, cultivating the 12,000 acres of surrounding farmland used to decrease the local bird population (and it is worth pausing over what that says about their farming practices).
2. Increases local dust and debris, which Captain Knapp’s airplane engines are apparently sensitive to.
3. Increases incidence of Valley Fever among people living on the base.
Now, I am no military expert**, so I will not venture a guess at the dangers increased bird strikes and dust on a California naval air station pose to the air strike capacity of the United States Navy. It seems to me that they’d have encountered these conditions before, but what do I know? I am, however, a California bureaucracy expert and a water expert. So I have a few thoughts.
First, what is Lemoore Air Station doing entirely dependent on the water allocations of an agricultural water district? Lemoore has about 5,000 people on base, which means I bet they have more than 3,000 water connections, which means Lemoore Air Station should be writing an Urban Water Management Plan. Then, in the event that they suddenly have less water, they could go to the required Shortage Contingency Plan and implement their plan for dealing with these foreseeable problems. I bet Lemoore fell through the cracks, because it is a federal installation in the middle of an ag water district, but the state requires other comparable-sized cities to plan for these events.
Second, I don’t think a small city should be dependent on an ag water district’s water supply; there are different minimum health and safety standards for each, for example. But given that it is, that actually makes the lines of communication simple and direct. If the lack of 12,000 farmed acres around Lemoore is a national security issue, the base commander can go straight to the Westlands Board of Directors. They’re right there and they meet every month. But the word “Lemoore” doesn’t appear in any of the last twelve Board meeting agendas. Apparently the danger to naval air strike capacity is bad enough for base commander Captain Knapp to tell a newspaper reporter about, but not bad enough for him to go to his water supplier and ask for a specific allotment for a buffer against bird strikes and dust.
Maybe Navy Captain Knapp is shy and doesn’t want to disturb the Westlands Board of Directors with a national security matter. In that case, he has other options. He can’t go to DWR for an emergency transfer from the Drought Water Bank, because he’d need an Urban Water Management Plan with a complete Shortage Contingency Plan in it. But considering that the half the navy’s air strike capacity is endangered by bird strikes and dust at Lemoore, perhaps he could make a case to another federal water agency, like Reclamation. His 12,000 acres of cultivated buffer would require about 36,000 acrefeet of water to grow a crop and preserve the nation’s military readiness. Reclamation had ten times that amount in carryover storage in San Luis. They were holding that against a dry 2010, but if a direct link between 36,000 acrefeet of water at Lemoore Naval Air Station and a pressing national security crisis had been proven to them, I find it hard to believe that Reclamation couldn’t have given Lemoore water that was already south of the Delta. Captain Knapp complains that Reclamation wasn’t responsive, and perhaps that’s true. But perhaps they weren’t responsive to a general plea for more water in the region, instead of a specific request for a fixed amount of water to alleviate a well-demonstrated threat to the military readiness of the country. I’m only speculating.
Which leads me to two more points. First, how far do you want to take this link between water and national security? Does it go any farther than giving interviews to Fox News reporters who are trying to undermine the Endangered Species Act? I ask because I’m worried about your long runways. Look at them out there on the west side, where overpumping has caused about seven feet of subsidence in the past few years. Are they cracking? Do cracked runways in California put half the air strike capacity of the United States navy at risk? Seems like it is at least as worrisome as additional bird strikes. That might be a good reason to call for groundwater regulation (or a halt to overdrafting altogether) in California.
That brings me to my last point, which is that you work for me, Captain Knapp. I am one of your many employers, and I don’t like your giving interviews to biased news stations that are trying to undermine the laws of the land. I think that you shouldn’t be using the gravitas of your military service to try to influence court decisions through the news. I think that is bullshit, and you should be reprimanded for conspicuously inserting yourself into civilian politics. Now, half of your employers might think different. But half of your employers probably think like me. Since you’re sure to anger half your employers, you should stay out of politicking about water and stick to your military duties, which I am sure you serve well and admirably.