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Spring 2009

Economy vs. Environment

Water has become a hotly contested political issue over the past few decades. The famous Mark Twain quote “whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over” illustrates California water wars like no other. We have always been a nation that has managed out of crisis, instead of being proactive, which has brought California’s farmers and ranchers to their knees and our states $36 billion agricultural economy to its breaking point.

California’s population is nearing 37 million and over two-thirds of our states population lives in the arid desert. In order for our state to flourish, water management plays a key role in conveying water from the north state to dry Central and Southern California.

As the Sacramento-San Joaquin Rivers top the list as the most endangered rivers in the U.S. by conservation groups, it is clear that our government has failed as water managers. While many state and federal agencies scurry to find the solution to the problem of our failing ecosystem, inadequate flood control, and declining fish species, California farmers are paying the high price of political bickering and inaction.

In addition, California’s water crisis is a man-made problem; the drought we are experiencing is not only because of record low rainfall totals, but has been caused by the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA) that elevates plants and species above mankind. The ESA is wielded by environmental activists and feared by residents in rural communities.

The recent court ordered water cutbacks in pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect the endangered delta smelt Discussing water rights. A western pastime.has exacerbated the water crisis in California. The reduction in pumping, combined with some of the lowest water allocations ever announced, has California farming communities’ unemployment rate hovering near 40 percent.

This is the first year that California has experienced a drought since Congress enacted the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) in 1992, which allocated over 3 million acre-feet of water away from farms to protect the fisheries. The investment in Delta fisheries has only led to a decreasing number of fish species returning to spawn and the closure of salmon fishing in the Valley.

With the signing of the CVPIA into law, the environment has become the largest user of water with 48 percent, followed by agriculture at 41 percent and urban uses at 11 percent. This shift in water users illustrates that agriculture is not to blame for California’s water crisis and that comprehensives long term solution including the protection of water rights, increase water storage and water conveyance must all be part of the long-term solution

Furthermore, some of the most supreme water rights are held by north state farmers, ranchers and irrigation districts. For the past few months words such as “reallocation” and “reappropriation” of water rights have become common place terms, causing great concern to north state residents.

Upholding water rights will remain a strong focus as we battle through the bureaucracy of California water. Water rights are property rights and thus if taken, would have to be compensated for. While it may be battled out in a court, the protection of north state water rights tops the list of priorities for all involved in fighting for real solutions to California’s water crisis. ■

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