Call for water-policy reform continues

While California’s growers face tough decisions for planting in the face of the state’s historic drought, elected officials remain locked in partisan-driven debate over solutions.

State Sen. Jean Fuller, who sits on the Natural Resources and Water Committee, has been highlighting the need to invest in the state’s water system and the importance of building new storage. Although 2013 was the driest month in the state’s recorded history, Fuller and others have noted that a comprehensive delivery and storage system can bank water in flood years to be distributed in times of crisis.

When Gov. Jerry Brown de-clared a drought emergency earlier this year, his announcement focused on the need for conservation.

But Bakersfield Rep. Kevin McCarthy points to flawed California policies, aimed at protecting delta smelt, that actually divert fresh water into the ocean instead of storing it for drought years.

“Our communities are dealing with an unprecedented drought, and failed water policies on the state and federal level are filled with regulations that put the needs of fish before people. This is unacceptable. These policies are pushing thousands of acre-feet of precious water into the ocean to protect the Delta smelt rather than being directed to our cities and towns,” said McCarthy.

In light of the emergency drought, conservative leadership has been asking to reduce environmental restrictions that would allow that water instead to flow into communities. However, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the measures to protect the Delta smelt 2-1.

McCarthy is among the officials who have expressed concern for the long-reaching effects of farmers being forced to allow land to lie fallow, rather plant crops or tend established trees, since the state water agency has failed to deliver water already paid for by local communities.

“Policies should ensure every Californian access to a reliable and stable water supply,” said McCarthy. The House passed the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act, which outlines reform for California and which McCarthy points to as the most effective long-term solution for the “manmade” drought.

California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein have also crafted legislation, though their version focuses on giving financial relief to farmers. It has not yet passed the Senate.

On the state side, Fuller and the water committee continue working on a plan that addresses immediate needs while overhauling the current policies to create long-term sustainability.

President Barack Obama made a rare visit to California to address the drought, though his actions are focused on funding a billion-dollar study to examine climate change, which he points to as the cause of the present drought crisis.

Story First Published: 2014-04-02