‘Shock and awe’ not right for San Joaquin Val­ley wa­ter fight


The farm­ers of the Cen­tral Val­ley have for years ar­gued that they get lit­tle sym­pa­thy from state wa­ter bu­reau­crats de­spite their huge im­por­tance to Cal­i­for­nia’s econ­omy in ar­guably the world’s most fer­tile agri­cul­tural re­gion.

Given the po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence of Golden State en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists – some of whom con­sider “Big Ag” one of the worst as­pects of “mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion” – these farm­ers have rea­son to worry about fair treat­ment. It’s why last Mon­day hun­dreds of them gath­ered at the state Capi­tol in Sacra­mento to protest a plan be­ing con­sid­ered by the Cal­i­for­nia State Wa­ter Re­sources Con­trol Board to di­vert some wa­ter sup­plies from farm­ers to the lower San Joaquin River and three of its trib­u­taries from Fe­bru­ary to June to try to boost the de­clin­ing pop­u­la­tion

of salmon.

But in­stead of con­sid­er­ing the vast num­ber of vari­ables in the wa­ter de­bate and care­fully craft­ing a new ap­proach, In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke wants to come up with far­reach­ing changes on short no­tice. On Aug. 17, Zinke is­sued a memo to his staff or­der­ing the cre­ation within 15 days of a plan to force fed­eral and state of­fi­cials to max­i­mize wa­ter sup­plies to the Cen­tral Val­ley and to stream­line how his depart­ment in­ter­prets rel­e­vant en­vi­ron­men­tal laws, start­ing with the

En­dan­gered Species Act.

This seems much more like an in­vi­ta­tion to pro­tracted lit­i­ga­tion than a con­struc­tive ap­proach to ef­fect­ing change. Dra­matic “shock and awe” tac­tics may work for mil­i­tary at­tacks, but seem less likely to be suc­cess­ful in pub­lic policy de­bates.

The San Diego Union-Tri­bune Editorial Board won’t judge Zinke’s ini­tia­tive un­til its specifics are is­sued. But our hopes are not high.

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