This drought is so very interesting. I love that it is so conspicuously dry that the standard initial response is self-evidently useless. Normally the first response to drought is “Drought?!? Pour water on it!” But this year there is clearly no water anywhere, so we’ll get to skip that step. Streamline all the transfers you like, state officials; I’ll be shocked if there are farmers north of the Delta offering water. Open pump capacity for north to south transfers and finding water for wheeling will be the least of your troubles. It is also clear that nothing that takes infrastructure will be available in time to help. We’re going into this drought with the system we have. This clears out a whole thicket of debate as well.
I am reading a fair amount of talk about the governor’s emergency powers. Messrs Peltier and Santoyo keep bringing them up. After an emergency is declared, they say, the governor could use his emergency powers to weaken environmental laws. I haven’t yet heard anyone speculate about any other emergency powers. Could the governor use emergency powers to choose a couple million acres of land to fallow, allowing the water we do have to go further on the remaining irrigated acreage? Could the governor decide that with what little water we have available, we can’t afford to be irrigating crops that don’t directly provide calories to Californians? Maybe the governor’s emergency powers could rule out irrigating alfalfa or almonds*. Maybe the governor should decide that in these crucial dry years, we must protect what’s left of the Central Valley aquifers by banning groundwater pumping. Maybe the discussion of what the governor’s emergency powers could do shouldn’t begin and end with ‘gut the Endangered Species Act’.
Governor Brown could decide he doesn’t want to get into that quagmire, and I wouldn’t blame him. There are useful things the state could do that don’t require emergency powers. The state could help with the burdens of fallowed agriculture, like disposing of downed orchards. The state could set up a mental health hotline for ranchers and farmers, since it is well documented they kill themselves a lot during droughts. If the state is deeply concerned about farmworkers on the west side, it could offer to buy out any housing they own, move them to Fresno and offer them admission to Fresno State. The state could offer money to growers to hang tight for one year, or could buy their lands to add it to the Grasslands Bypass.
It all depends on what the state is trying to achieve during this drought. Is the goal of drought management to keep native species alive? Is the goal of drought management to keep all growers in the state prepared to return to growing as soon as water returns? Is the goal of drought management to buffer urban consumers from increases to the costs of meat and dairy? Is the goal of drought management to get a water bond through the state legislature? The state could do a lot, but unless it has some specific goals, I doubt it’ll do much of anything. Just you watch. If the emergency drought proclamation doesn’t state very specific goals, I bet that at the state level, drought management will consist of futilely beating the bushes for non-existent transfers, a sharp-looking website, and a monthly impact report.
*I understand that almonds garner high prices worldwide and are profitable for Californian farmers. But maybe in an extreme drought, the governor could decide that he wants to spend our limited water on preserving our native species, and not providing Chinese people with pleasant snacks.