Congress can deliver relief
The big lie in California right now is that there must be a choice between urban and rural water use, rather than a solution that meets all the state’s needs. Congress could deliver immediate relief to both groups by passing legislation to minimize water-supply reductions.
Due to overzealous application of the Endangered Species Act, the federal government has defaulted to the most water restrictive policy possible, without regard to science or drought conditions. Over the last 20 years, that has meant redirecting some 2 million acre-feet of water a year from human to environmental purposes, causing nearly continuous shortages for our farmers, weakening our water system and, sadly, producing no measurable benefits for the fisheries.
Legislation could require the release of more water from federal and state projects — the highest amount within the law’s environmentally acceptable range — for use by cities in Southern California and farms in the Central Valley. Laws protecting wildlife would remain in force and determinations about the environmental conditions would continue throughout the drought.
Asking the federal government to respond to a drought is no different than telling FEMA to handle floods, fires and earthquakes. The federal government should be required to demonstrate some balanced consideration of human conditions and permit the capture of excess water for cities and food production when the situation is appropriate.
There is bipartisan support for a legislative solution. With the crisis upon us, Congress must pass relief legislation immediately.