Despite far below average snow in the mountains, many residents of the Central Valley may not fully grasp that California continues to be in the midst of a prolonged drought. But unless significant snowfall comes over the next two months, agriculture and other major water users will continue to face restricted water availability and citizens will be directed to make extra efforts to conserve water. The challenge is real and severe.
In the midst of the prolonged drought, it can be easy for one interest group or another to rip into those who represent competing demands or to castigate those with differing political priorities. As one example, a recent community column in The Bee featured strident views by a West Side grower (“State’s water troubles man-made,” Feb. 22, Page D1) who condemned Pope Francis, churches and schools for encouraging people to care about the environment when, from his perspective, it is business and agriculture that really matter. He lambasted environmentalists as earth worshippers and pagans.
Congress provides another embarrassing example of such polarizing outbursts that further divide politicians and their constituencies instead of bringing legislators and competing interests together to resolve common challenges.
In direct contrast to such high-profile polarization, there are current examples of diverse interests putting aside differences to actually cooperate to solve problems. In the Stanislaus National Forest, one forest landscape collaborative process with a broad range of interests has already gained approval for millions of dollars in extra funds to apply to logging for thinning, prescribed burns, road reconstruction and other needed forest treatments in the Mokelumne River watershed.
A second collaborative with even more diverse participation is the Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions group. With timber industry, environmental, business, agency, tribal, ranching and recreation interests all collaborating, YSS has already gained major grants and is making progress in gaining millions of additional dollars to be directly applied to restoring the Rim fire landscape and reducing watershed damage.
Along with these two efforts, a third collaborative group has focused more narrowly on water and watershed issues across the upper watersheds of the Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers. Environmentalists, local politicians, tribal representatives, water agencies and other interests have met monthly for more than seven years to focus on areas where we can find consensus – not where we disagree. As a result of showing respect for opposing views and working to find agreement, the Tuolumne-Stanislaus Integrated Regional Water Management group has successfully gained millions of dollars in state bond funds to benefit water districts and watershed management in the local region.
As is often evident on certain news stations, at political meetings or in columns, it can be easy to take potshots at those with different views or those who hold different priorities. But when the goal is to identify common interests and find ways to achieve them, opponents aren’t seen as the enemy but as potential partners.
As a longtime environmental leader dealing with a wide range of controversial issues across this vast region, it is my experience that respectful strategies and sensitivity to opposing views gain far more in the long run than denigrating opponents as evils to be overcome.
Congress in particular might want to give it a try.
John Buckley is executive director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center of Twain Harte. He was a visiting editor in 2011. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.