While we’re used to hearing outlandish statements from the state’s regulators – “the need for more river water has nothing to do with the Twin Tunnel proposal” – we can’t help but wonder what’s up with this decision.
They believe this is a drought? Seriously?
No doubt some pockets of California are still drier than they should be; Southern California has only gotten normal rainfall. And in many areas of the south Valley groundwater tables have been disastrously depleted; some would require half a century to be replenished. Others aquifers have collapsed and are lost forever.
That said, by any objective standard, most of California is not in drought. Just the opposite. We’ve had 13 inches of rain in Modesto so far this year and 12 inches in Merced. Turlock Irrigation District’s Michael Frantz noted that releases from Don Pedro will soon rise to 11,000 cubic feet per second to make more room in the reservoir. There’s 37 feet of snow at one Tahoe ski resort, 35 at another. Some north-state rivers are at flood stage.
Managers of the state’s largest water districts asked that the emergency declaration be lifted. After five years of drought, they reasoned, Californians know very well that water is precious and is not to be wasted. They recommended, instead, the state invoke a plan for ongoing conservation. Keep “emergency” status for when it isn’t raining.
“If you want people to respond when there really is an emergency,” said Frantz, “you can’t tell them that it’s always an emergency.”
One group did applaud the state’s decision to stick to the drought emergency order – those in environmental groups. That their advice was valued over that coming from those who actually store the water, distribute it and put it to beneficial use is telling.
So back to our question, why would the State Water Board tell us we’re still in drought?
There’s not a lot of trust in the water board or its motives (and that’s putting it politely) around here. It’s difficult not to assume the worst from a group of appointed regulators when they’re locked in a debate over how much of our water they’re going to grab – either twice as much or three times as much.
Will an emergency drought declaration allow bureaucrats to cut agriculture flows to west side farmers later this year? If there’s still an emergency, will the state try to claim even more water for environmental flows?
The board says it will revisit its decision in May. By then the rains will have stopped and people will be watering their lawns; removing any restrictions then might signal that people can water with abandon. We hope that won’t happen, but it’s more likely if an announcement comes in May rather than February.
From our experience, this was predictable. It’s too much to expect the water board’s decisions to make sense.