Melting Snows, Melting Hearts

California’s annual water miracle is under way high up in the state’s mountain ranges. Drop by drop, billions of tons of snow are being transformed into trickles, freshets and torrents that merge into creeks and rivers feeding the state’s Central Valley system. Without this vast natural winter storage facility, much of developed California--particularly the south--would be wasteland.

Something else is afoot in California this spring that may not lead to a miracle, but that certainly provides hope for a rational long-term resolution of the water battles that have split Northern and Southern California for decades.

A new generation of talented, articulate leadership has brought fresh ideas to the field of California water management. These men and women are attempting to reach beyond the regionalism that has stymied state water development in the past. They recognize that it is impossible to talk about one area’s water problems without involving a broad spectrum of California’s economic, social and environmental interests.

Residents of the arid south, still smarting over the defeat of the Peripheral Canal in the 1982 election, might be surprised to discover that much of this new leadership is coming from Northern California. It includes George Miller, the 39-year-old congressman from Contra Costa County who became chairman of the water and power subcommittee of the House Interior Committee this year, and Tom Graff, senior attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund in Berkeley.


Both are veterans of water issues and often have been diligent foes of Southern California water policies. Each will continue to battle for the best break for his own constituency. But Miller and Graff have moved into positions of broad responsibility and influence with a determination to deal with water issues on a statewide basis.

Even more intriguing is the evolution of the Committee for Water Policy Consensus under Contra Costa County Supervisor Sunne Wright McPeak, a leader of the anti-Peripheral Canal campaign. This diverse group from the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region has reconciled many of the north’s own intramural disputes and is seeking to develop support for a comprehensive statewide water-management program.

A committee position paper says, “Many of those who had campaigned to stop the Peripheral Canal felt an obligation to come back with a positive approach to resolving California’s water problems.” The committee has adopted a set of policies that demands, not surprisingly, stronger water quality guarantees for the bay and the delta.

This and some other specific policies will be difficult to resolve with water interests in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. But the committee also recognizes the need for additional water-development facilities to serve the south. The approach that is being taken by the Northern Californians is refreshing and noteworthy.

Not to be overlooked is the new leadership of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California under General Manager Carl Boronky. Since Boronky took charge, MWD has pursued innovative programs of water development and conservation with greater vigor and is expanding its public-information and governmental liaison efforts.

Several more Sierra snowpacks may melt before these developments result in concrete action. Don’t expect miracles. But the groundwork is being laid for a progressive new approach to California water management. In the process a greater number of Californians will develop a deeper knowledge of the state’s water-supply problems. This effort should be encouraged and nurtured by all.