Can state pull to­gether on drought?

Forg­ing a last­ing so­lu­tion to wa­ter woes will be a daunt­ing prospect for war­ring fac­tions in the north, cen­ter and south.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA POLITICS - CATH­LEEN DECKER cath­leen.decker @la­ Twit­ter: @cath­leen­decker For more on pol­i­tics, go to­

On the peren­ni­ally vex­ing sub­jects of wa­ter and the drought, Gov. Jerry Brown has been on some­thing of a roll.

In Novem­ber, he won easy ap­proval of a state bond mea­sure that meant $7.5 bil­lion for new wa­ter projects. In March he signed leg­is­la­tion au­tho­riz­ing $1 bil­lion in emer­gency drought re­lief and projects to save wa­ter in the fu­ture. In April he or­dered a manda­tory 25% cut in ur­ban wa­ter use, the first such re­stric­tions is­sued statewide. Those or­ders have so far been em­braced by Cal­i­for­ni­ans in the­ory, if not yet with com­pli­ance.

But forg­ing a more last­ing so­lu­tion to Cal­i­for­nia’s wa­ter woes will be more daunt­ing, re­quir­ing some­thing that has eluded the state for decades: com­pro­mise be­tween the war­ring tribes of Cal­i­for­nia, the north and the south, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and agriculture.

Al­ready, to a de­gree un­seen in prior drought pe­ri­ods, there seems to be wide­spread agree­ment about the se­ri­ous­ness of the sit­u­a­tion. The drought has risen to the top of the list of Cal­i­for­ni­ans’ con­cerns, a new poll shows, and not just in re­gions of the state where wa­ter is a con­stant prob­lem.

Ev­ery­one wants an end to the drought, in the form of rain and lots of it. But if the rains come, will they also wash away in­ter­est in long-term so­lu­tions for the next drought?

“Ob­vi­ously, you hope it rains — the farm­ers are suf­fer­ing, a lot of peo­ple have lost their liveli­hoods be­cause of lack of rain,” former Gov. Gray Davis said. “Do we want it? Yes! But it is also true that the ab­sence of rain over a pro­longed pe­riod has fo­cused the pub­lic’s at­ten­tion for long-term, struc­tural re­form.”

Davis takes that stance as a former chief ex­ec­u­tive and as chief of staff to Brown when he served as gov­er­nor in the 1970s, dur­ing ar­guably the worst drought in mod­ern times. In many ways, that drought pro­pelled a civil war over wa­ter.

More than the cur­rent emer­gency, the 1976-77 drought was vis­ited mostly upon the cen­tral and north­ern part of Cal­i­for­nia. States of emer­gency were de­clared in 23 coun­ties, none of them in the south.

In South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, lawns were lush. In North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, show­ers were brief. The south was en­cour­aged to save wa­ter; the north was re­quired to do so. The geo­graphic angst spilled into the 1980s in a fierce fight over the Pe­riph­eral Canal, meant to bring wa­ter from the north to the thirsty farms and cities of the south.

On the bal­lot in 1982, the canal was sup­ported two to one by South­ern Cal­i­for­ni­ans. It failed when North­ern Cal­i­for­ni­ans op­posed it over­whelm­ingly.

But there were only 22 mil­lion peo­ple in Cal­i­for­nia then, and there are 38 mil­lion now, and the drought’s reach has ex­panded too. The manda­tory re­stric­tions an­nounced by Brown in April cov­ered the en­tire state, with the ex­cep­tion of the agriculture in­dus­try.

It turns out mis­ery does love com­pany. In a re­cent Field Poll, 63% of South­ern Cal­i­for­ni­ans called the drought con­di­tions “ex­tremely se­ri­ous,” a view shared by 75% of North­ern Cal­i­for­ni­ans.

Sup­port for Brown’s de­mand for re­duced wa­ter use was al­most iden­ti­cal, with 64% of the south and 66% of the north sup­port­ing the gov­er­nor.

A poll re­leased last week by the Pub­lic Pol­icy In­sti­tute of Cal­i­for­nia found more than six in 10 peo­ple in both the Bay Area and Los An­ge­les felt their ar­eas weren’t do­ing enough to re­spond to wa­ter short­ages. The poll showed the drought to be the top is­sue on Cal­i­for­ni­ans’ radar, out­dis­tanc­ing the econ­omy and jobs.

The gov­er­nor has two wa­ter-re­lated goals — to make it through this drought and to suc­ceed with a more per­ma­nent fix in the form of his enor­mously ex­pen­sive plan to move North­ern Cal­i­for­nia wa­ter to the farms and cities of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia via twin delta tun­nels dozens of miles long.

That plan, which would stand as a key el­e­ment of Brown’s legacy, has been be­set by dis­putes among reg­u­la­tors, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and agriculture, the same sort of feuds that have marked wa­ter wars for years.

The dis­cus­sion will beg the ques­tion of whether Cal­i­for­nia’s typ­i­cally short at­ten­tion span, its termlimit churn and its con­stant crises will al­low a so­lu­tion that can weather years of com­pro­mise, plan­ning and ex­e­cu­tion.

But a full range of so­lu­tions is needed, ac­cord­ing to two re­cent chief ex­ec­u­tives.

Pete Wil­son, the Re­pub­li­can gov­er­nor dur­ing part of a lengthy drought that stretched from 1987 to 1992, blamed pres­sure from some na­tional en­vi­ron­men­tal groups for lim­it­ing the amount of above-ground and un­der­ground stor­age that could have been cre­ated then (and eased wa­ter prob­lems now). He pointed to coun­ties like San Diego that have in­creased the size of dams and boosted wa­ter re­cy­cling and de­salin­iza­tion.

Ab­sent a quick end­ing to this drought, Cal­i­for­ni­ans may opt to sup­port Brown’s delta tun­nel plan and other ef­forts to ex­tend what wa­ter we have, Wil­son said.

“If they think it’s the only way, then prob­a­bly they will at least soon be pre­pared to do it,” Wil­son said. “But I hear from peo­ple who say it’s crim­i­nal and need­less — there should have been ac­tion taken long ago.”

Davis, who as gov­er­nor ex­panded un­der­ground aquifers to store wa­ter, urged a com­mit­ment to con­ser­va­tion — and, in par­tic­u­lar, wa­ter re­cy­cling. “We re­cy­cle ev­ery­thing else in our so­ci­ety,” he said.

He said sac­ri­fice will have to come from all par­ties, even be­lea­guered agriculture, but he puts lit­tle stock in the no­tion that war­ring par­ties will forge some com­pro­mise on their own.

It’s go­ing to be up to the gov­er­nor and Leg­is­la­ture, he said, to push the state where it needs to go.

“Elected of­fi­cials should be wary if this drought gets worse,” warned Davis, whose ten­ure suf­fered when elec­tric­ity brownouts hit the state. “The fin­ger is go­ing to be pointed at some­one.”

Rich Pedroncelli As­so­ci­ated Press


poll shows wide­spread sup­port for Gov. Jerry Brown’s or­der to cut wa­ter con­sump­tion.

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