If you go to your doctor and ask for prescription pain relievers even after you’re no longer in pain, that probably makes you an addict. Instead of killing pain, you need those pills to feed an addiction. And you will say anything to get those pain pills!
To an uninvolved bystander – or to an expert like your doctor – your need is just a craving.
One of California’s leading environmental agencies, the State Water Resource Control Board, is an addict and its drug of choice is our water.
Since Gov. Jerry Brown granted the board the highest emergency authority over the state’s water with his declaration of the drought emergency in January 2014, the board has thrived on the pain of crisis to demand more water.
Like any drug addict, the board has lots of excuses for wanting more. It says there isn’t enough water to keep protected species, rivers and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta healthy – even as cities go dry, thousands of acres of farmland are fallowed, and millions of Californians are paying more to use less water.
Since February 2014, through the deepest pain of our Mega-Drought, the state water board ordered 66 percent of all water entering the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to flow unimpaired to the sea. Just under 23 percent was allowed to flow to the two-thirds of the people of California – some 22 million in cities and on farms – who depend on it.
Farmers, deprived of water, suffered $9.6 billion in losses in 2015. Suburban citizens saw their lawns go brown, state and urban water districts paid out landscape-replacement rebates totaling more than a half-billion dollars, and those same water districts – saddled with fixed costs and lower deliveries – required ratepayers to pay higher bills. All was a result of so little water being available, and that was due to the state water board’s addiction.
Entering 2017, the board’s “water high” is wearing off. The board needs a hit. But how can it ask for more water when it already has taken 66 percent of flows over the past 33 months?
Maybe a second opinion would help.
Enter Jonathan Rosenfield of the Bay Institute – with funding from the San Francisco Estuary Partnership, a coalition of non-profits and public agencies, including a regional water quality board directly controlled by the SWRCB – who produced a new, yet familiar prescription.
Rosenfield provided a report insisting the state water board should take more water due to the devastating effects of withholding less than a quarter of the Delta’s freshwater from the Pacific Ocean. He said the water board must cut off water deliveries to families and farms in Southern California, Silicon Valley and much of the Central Valley. He and another Bay Institute staffer even filed a complaint with the water board based on inadequate flows on the San Joaquin River at a checkpoint near Vernalis in early 2016, when it was still unclear whether our drought was subsiding.
Like an addict reaching for a fix, the water board proposed a new rule that demands 40 percent more water – water protected by century-old rights for use by the people of California – to flow unimpaired and untouched to the sea. This water would have to come from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Merced and San Joaquin Rivers. The water board even started discussing plans for a rule to require similar diversions from the Sacramento River (which, according to Rosenfield and another Bay Institute scientist, became too warm for salmon earlier this year).
This is science made to order. So long as our state is still in water pain, and Brown’s emergency drought declaration stands, the state water board can imperiously demand its drug of choice – more water – to cure any craving.
Yes, the state’s water system is sick. Even with 66 percent of the state’s rivers flowing through the Delta, the endangered Delta Smelt and winter-run Chinook salmon and several other native species are on the brink. But if the state couldn’t make them healthier with 70 percent flows in the last 13 months, or 66 percent in the last three years, and as much as 50 percent in the 12 years prior to that, then going beyond 70 percent isn’t likely to help the fish. Nor will it satisfy the SWRCB’s cravings.
These scientists are involved in a “pay-to-play” scheme that requires the environment to decline, species to go extinct, and our environment to become unhealthy in order for it to work. Without those conditions, the state cannot demand more water. Buying fake scientific opinions isn’t an honest or ethical way to solve our real environmental and water problems.
Meanwhile, other studies, by well-credentialed scientist, are showing the extinction issue is far more complex than has been shown by the state’s preferred studies. Their work shows that non-native predation plays a significant role, as does the loss of wetlands and the channelization of 95 percent of the Delta and offshore changes in the Pacific Ocean.
It’s time for an intervention. Gov. Brown and the state water board need to admit there’s a real problem – a problem that cannot be fixed by simply satisfying the environmental community or feeding its ever-growing water habit.
Aubrey Bettencourt is executive director of the California Water Alliance, a public policy group advocating for the needs of California families, cities, businesses, farmers and the environment. On Twitter @AubBettencourt. She wrote this for The Modesto Bee.