Earlier this year, with the effects of a multi-year drought becoming even more serious, California Governor Jerry Brown (D) ordered cities and towns to cut water use by 25 percent. The State Water Resources Control Board later approved rules encouraging residents to let their lawns die. Meanwhile, farmers have struggled mightily to maintain their crops. Half of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts consumed in the United States are grown in California, and this crisis poses a serious threat to the state’s agriculture and the millions of Americans who rely on it.
California's system of aqueducts and storage tanks was designed long ago to take advantage of rain and mountain runoff from wet years and store it for use in dry years. But it's now inactive — by design. …
Environmental special interests managed to dismantle the system by diverting water meant for farms to pet projects, such as saving delta smelt, a baitfish. That move forced the flushing of 3 million acre-feet of water originally slated for the Central Valley into the ocean over the past five years. …
The shutdown has been made worse by the inaction of California's Democrats, who for years have refused to build adequate storage facilities so that rainwater and snowmelt runoff can be stored for use by a growing population during dry years, another element of the earlier system. With no storage, the rain goes wasted.
Why is this particular fish worth inflicting so much pain on so many people? It’s not:
As fish go, it is undistinguished. Inedible, short-lived, and growing to a maximum length of just under three inches, smelt are of interest to nobody much — except, that is, to the implacable foot soldiers of the modern environmental movement, some of whom have recently elevated the smelt’s well-being above all else that has traditionally been considered to be of value. Human beings, the production of food, and the distribution of life-enabling water can all be damned, it seems. All hail the smelt, the most important animal in America.
The Central Valley’s woes began in earnest in 2007, when the hardline Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) won a lawsuit against California’s intricate water-delivery system, sending farmers like John Harris into a tailspin. In court, the NRDC’s lawyers contended that the vast pumps that help to funnel water from the reservoirs up in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta down to the Central Valley, to Southern California, and to the Bay Area were sucking in and shredding an unacceptable number of smelt — and, the smelt being protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1994, that this was illegal.
Given that the NRDC has long wished for farming operations in the valley to be curtailed on the peculiar grounds that it isn’t native to the area, this struck many observers as rather too convenient. … [But a federal judge] ruled that the protections afforded to the smelt were insufficient and ordered the federal Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a new “biological opinion” on the matter — this time without deciding that the smelt was in “no jeopardy.” And that, as they say, was that. … In 2007, the pumps were turned down; the Delta’s water output was lowered dramatically, contingent now upon the interests of a fish; and the farms that rely on the system in order to grow their crops were thrown into veritable chaos. Predictably, a man-made drought began.
If ever there was a phrase that perfectly encapsulates liberal environmentalists’ backwards priorities and regressive ideology of restriction and scarcity, it is the one now displayed on a government sign in Arcadia, California: “It’s ‘green’ to go brown.”
This is not what progress, growth, and 21st-century solutions look like.
Of course, the facts haven’t stopped President Obama from claiming that the current water shortage is caused by climate change and threatening to veto more than one bill passed by House Republicans to help provide relief. Last year’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act (H.R. 3964) was also completely ignored by the Democrats in control of the U.S. Senate at the time.
And so, for many California farmers and workers, this year has been like the last few: a constant struggle to keep their crops and their livelihoods alive, despite the best efforts of big government bureaucrats. “We can get through the season, the water is there, if they manage it properly,” one farmer said.
Which is why, this week, the Republican-led Congress will act once again on legislation to provide relief and allow water resources to be managed in a way that actually makes sense. The Western Water & American Food Security Act (H.R. 2898) will, according to the Natural Resources Committee, require that federal and state agencies use the most updated available science in water management decisions, require the federal government to expedite and complete consideration of feasibility studies for water storage projects that have been languishing in bureaucratic purgatory for over ten years, streamline the permit process for building infrastructure to capture water, and more.