January 17, 2014

Saturday Shorts: Costly water will ensure conservation

So the drought is official. The governor proclaimed it such Friday.

So the drought is official. The governor proclaimed it such Friday.

Gov. Jerry Brown did it in his usual pragmatic style, saying “We can’t make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California’s drought now threatens.”

The first of those consequences, he noted, was “dramatically less water for our farms and communities,” then he went on to call for voluntary conservation.

Well, voluntary measures are unlikely to be enough. If the state can’t, then our cities and counties should do more. We should limit landscape watering to one day a week. We should let our cars get a little dustier before washing. Make that a lot dustier. But those are little things. And since we can’t count on most people to do the little things, we should consider something bigger – making water more costly.

For farmers, it already is. Those who rely on groundwater, are paying for deeper wells and stronger pumps. Those who get surface water from irrigation districts are making the same calculations because it’s unlikely they’ll get all the water they need this season and they, too, will be pumping. Westside farmers who get their water from federal water projects have been told not to expect any, so they are trying to buy whatever is available in hopes of protecting their permanent crops. That water is selling for $500 an acre-foot. Normally, it goes for as little as $6.

In a drought, water is utterly precious. So let the costs reflect that; as water costs more, conservation becomes more effective.

• Lots of people were rushing to praise the governor’s proclamation, including the Sierra Club, which in the next breath asked that the state keep intact environmental protections. But we wonder what did fish do when there were droughts before we had dams? They suffered along with the humans. We must absolutely make allowances for wildlife, but as allotments of water for humans are decreased so should allotments for wildlife. Not eliminated, but commensurately diminished. No matter how severe this drought gets, we doubt the Sierra Club will ever see the need for more water storage. The fish and waterfowl, if they had an opinion, might not agree.
• Congressional Democrats also chimed in their support, pointing out that fully 63 percent of our state is under “extreme drought” conditions. The rest of the state is in “severe drought.” Perhaps this is a good time for them to work a little harder to find funding and political muscle to build more storage.
• Our local electeds were a little more pointed in their analysis. Sen. Anthony Cannella pointed out that a “lack of water means a loss of jobs, a shrinking food supply and threatens the integrity of our drinking water.” Dire warnings, but not an exaggeration. Basically, he said Brown is about a year late on the declaration and asked that those who need water the most get it. Figuring that out will be difficult.

Sen. Tom Berryhill “absolutely” commended the governor for addressing the “very serious” situation, but rightly pointed out that this is only a “first step.” He noted that our reservoirs are at an all-time low and that this crisis is of “epic proportions.” He made the critical link to using this crisis to pass a bond that would allow us to build more storage.

• Our bottom line: Crisis is another word for opportunity; while the drought has everyone’s attention it’s time to get them focused on creating more water storage.

There’s a new group trying to get things moving in the right direction, Catalyst Modesto. Congratulations to executive director Marvin Jacobo. One of the first projects the group is promoting looks like fun. The Modesto Art Museum wants to see proposals for public art that doubles as bike racks. They will inhabit the Modesto Design District and American Graffiti Cruise route. Artists, architects, engineers, designers, fabricators, metal workers and others are invited to submit proposals. It’s funded by Artplace America. Go to http://modestoartmuseum.org for details. If you’re not so inclined, you can take a survey that will help direct Catalyst as it looks for ways to help Modesto. Visit the website catalystmodesto.org to learn more.

One of the few organizations trying to help highlight and prioritize the issues confronting the entire San Joaquin Valley (from Bakersfield to Stockton) is the Kenneth L. Maddy Institute. If you’re not listening to executive director Mark Keppler’s weekly broadcast (also available online), then you’re missing an excellent opportunity to better know your valley. This week’s show is “California’s Political Climate” and features political columnist Dan Walters, Dean Bonner of the Public Policy Institute and others. You can find it at www.calchannel.com or through the Maddy Institute.

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