Dodgers
Plaschke: Vin Scully is a voice for the ages
CALIFORNIA POLITICS
Capitol Journal

Government is being a drip on the drought

California's recent rainstorms should be praised, not downplayed

There are two things very annoying about the deluges that have been drenching California. And neither involves nature.

Both involve government.

One is that the downpours are routinely dismissed by bureaucrats and water professionals as not very important. It would have to rain buckets for 40 days and 40 nights to be meaningful, we're invariably told.

Comments like this: "It takes a long time to get out of a drought this severe.... It will take at least months of above-normal rain."

And: "Rainfall would have to duplicate what we're seeing this week and last week over and over again."

Yeah, we get it. But how about showing some gratitude for the heavenly gifts? Reflecting what I suspect is the dominant public mood of optimism and cheer? Water managers should be grateful for the good fortune and shouting, "Thank you, Lord."

Instead — and this is my second gripe — they keep talking down to us like we're children. Like we can't see what's falling from the sky. They keep spinning a drought.

As I'm writing this, hydrologists are predicting that the big, broad Sacramento River will rise 8 feet at the capital city within two days because of rampaging stream runoffs. Even before the last storm, the normally green-hued river was running chocolate brown from mud flows.

Highways have closed because of flooding. Cars have been hydroplaning and been swept off roads. Creeks are leaping their banks. The Los Angeles River has become a real river.

That's hardly a drought. My Webster's defines drought as "a period of dryness, especially when prolonged."

Yes, I know. It's the driest three-year period in four decades. But it hardly has been dry lately. Come up with a better word, one between drought and flood, something that doesn't keep corrupting the English language and eroding government credibility.

How about simply calling it a water shortage?

It's true, the big reservoirs are still way down. Shasta — California's largest — was at 30% capacity Friday. Oroville, 31%; Trinity, 28%; Folsom, 36%. But Diamond Valley near Hemet was half full.

In Northern California, there was enough water flowing into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that state and federal agencies were pumping the legal limit into the south-bound aqueducts: 11,300 cubic feet per second. Think 11,300 basketballs each second. Much of that was being dumped into San Luis Reservoir, only 29% full last week.

What's really aggravating — and a turnoff for the ears — is being continually lectured about conservation. About the need to turn off faucets, limit showers and flushing, rip out lawns and keep cars filthy.

Yes, conservation is important now and in the future. But be intellectually honest about it.

The reason droughts hardly ever officially end is because they're seen by government minds as necessary to shape public policy and achieve a political agenda. Drought is a scary, motivating word.

But hey, government people, we voters just approved a $7.5-billion water bond. Get cracking on spending that money for worthwhile projects.

There's $2.7 billion available for water storage projects, presumably dams. It'll take at least three years, I'm told, to choose the projects and commence construction.

Most of the other billions are for such sorely needed local projects as wastewater management, storm water capture, groundwater cleanup and recycling. Local agencies need to expedite their project priorities and apply for state grants.

Also, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature finally this year enacted legislation to eventually regulate California's rapidly declining groundwater. That will mainly be a chore for local agencies, and they need to hurry it up. This is the only western state, unbelievably, that doesn't manage groundwater. You can sink wells willy-nilly.

When are Brown and the Legislature, incidentally, going to get serious about desalination? Some local communities — particularly San Diego — are starting to. State government has been lagging.

And if California is to ever truly meet its water needs without further stealing from one region — the Owens Valley, the delta — for the benefit of essentially arid lands, it eventually must reprioritize water usage and regulate crops.

Government long has regulated land use for shopping malls, factories and dumps. Why not also for crops based on their water use? Agriculture claims 80% of the state's developed water. And 55% of exported delta water goes to two irrigation districts in the San Joaquin Valley.

But "farm production and food processing only generate about 2% of California's gross state product," according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

With row crops — vegetables — the land can be fallowed during a drought. Not so with orchards. Almonds especially are water-gulpers and they've proliferated to 940,000 acres, mainly in the San Joaquin Valley. One estimate is that it takes more than a gallon of water to grow a single almond.

You also can add pistachios and wine grapes to water-sucking crops that can't be fallowed. They're all cool when there's ample water. When not, some rural folks are forced to haul in their own water for cooking and cleaning. That's not sustainable politically or socially.

Meanwhile, stop preaching to me about fallowing my little lawn.

Shout hallelujah, what a glorious day in California! It's raining in sheets. Praise the Lord.

Shush the Bah Humbug.

george.skelton@latimes.com

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
91°