We all know water is a big problem in California. It becomes very complex – but the root of the problem is simple: most of the water in California falls on the northwestern third of the state, and the vast majority of the people and agriculture are far away. There are no natural delivery systems for that water beyond the San Francisco Bay – all that lovely rainfall from the northwest just goes into the ocean.
We’ve tried to rectify that with tremendous projects that moves that water southward. The Central Valley Project – or CVP – was created by the federal government in 1933 to facilitate moving this water into the central valley for irrigation. This agency is supervised by the Federal Bureau of Reclamation. In 1960 the California State Water Project – the SWP – was created by the state to move some of that water to southern California. Now, so many years later, the SWP provides drinking water to 23 million people in the San Francisco area and southern California. It is one of the largest public water and power utilities in the world.
In theory, these two these two agencies should work smoothly to deliver water for thirsty people and crops. But the projects have never been built out enough to meet the demand.
And now, the problem gets complicated. The State Water Board is the elephant in the room. It says who gets how much water. Members of this Board are appointed by the Governor to make these decisions. Under Jerry Brown, this Board leans heavily in favor of the environmental lobby, forcing the state to release water to flow into the ocean at the price of farmland.
This increased flow was due to what is called “biological opinions”. These opinions say which animals are protected under the Endangered Species Act. These opinions are used to force the agencies to keep water flows to the ocean high to insure there is enough water to protect endangered salmon and smelt. This becomes a big problem during times of drought.
President Trump recently sent out a memo telling his federal agencies to reassess their biological opinions affecting California’s water issues, and to do it quickly. The goal is to reduce the amount of water dumped into the ocean to help fish and increase the amount available for farming.
Will it work? It could. But you can bet there will be lawsuits, and if the governor’s office remains under the thumb of the Sierra Club, there will be powerful resistance.