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Why Californians Are Starved of Water

Newsweek, 3/19/15 Victor Davis Hanson


"Today, modern  Californians have no idea of whether a four-year drought is normal, in, say, a 5,000-year natural history of the region, or is aberrant, as wet years are long overdue and will return with a vengeance.


"That we claim to know what to expect from about 150 years of recordkeeping does not mean that we  know anything about what is normal in nature's brief millennia. . . .


"Our ancestors . . . designed huge transfer projects from Northern California, which was wet and sparsely settled, southward to where the state was dry and populated. They assumed that northerners wanted less water and relief from flooding, and southerners more water and security from drought, and thus their duty was to accommodate both. . . .


"These plans . . . were envisioned as expanding to meet inevitable population increases. The Temperance Flat, Los Banos Grandes and Sites reservoirs were planned in wet years as safety deposits, once higher reservoirs emptied. As the population grew larger, dams could be raised at Shasta and Orovill. Or huge third-phase reservoirs like the vast Ah Pah project on the Klamath River might give the state invulnerability from even five-to six-year droughts. . . .


"The state and federal water projects were envisioned as many things--flood control, hydroelectric generation, irrigation and recreation. One agenda was not fish restoration.  .  . . our forefathers never envisioned building dams and reservoirs to store water to ensure year-round fish runs in our rivers--a mechanism to improve on the boom-and-bust cycles of nature . . .

One may prefer catching a salmon near Fresno to having a $70 billion agricultural industry, but these days one cannot have both.


"Releasing water to the ocean in times of drought was not the intention of either the California State Water Project or the Central Valley Project. . . predicated on the idea that those living in Mendota or working in Coalinga are an unfortunately unnatural species, at least in comparison with river salmon and bait fish. . . .


"Deliberate retardation of infrastructure to discourage consumption  . . . not building dams and reservoirs, did not mean fewer people would have water or food . . . but only that there would be more competition  . . . for shrinking supplies.  . . ."

An Ironic Drought in California

Tribune Content Agency, 04/29/2015, Victor Davis Hanson, 

"The present four-year California drought is not novel -- even if President Barack Obama and California Gov. Jerry Brown have blamed it on man-made climate change.


"According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, California droughts are both age-old and common. Predictable California dry spells -- like those of 1929-34, 1976-77 and 1987-92 -- more likely result from poorly understood but temporary changes in atmospheric pressures and ocean temperatures. . . .


"After the initial phases of the federal Central Valley Project and state California Water Project were largely finished -- and flooding was no longer considered a dire threat in Northern California -- environmentalists in the last 40 years canceled most of the major second- and third-stage storage projects. To take a few examples, they stopped the raising of Shasta Dam, the construction of the Peripheral Canal, and gargantuan projects such as the Ah Pah and Dos Rios reservoirs. . . .


"Lower foothill dams such as the proposed Sites, Los Banos and Temperance Flat dams in wet years would have banked millions of acre-feet as insurance for dry years. All such reservoirs were also canceled.


"Yet a single 1 million acre-foot reservoir can usually be built as cheaply as a desalinization plant. . . . and provides almost 20 times as much  water. California could have built perhaps 40-50 such subsidiary reservoirs for the projected $68 billion cost of the proposed high-speed rail project.


"California's dams and reservoirs were originally intended to meet four objectives: flood control, agricultural irrigation, recreation and hydroelectric generation. . . . state planners . . .  would never have envisioned in a state of 40 million using the reservoirs in a drought to release water year-round for environmental objectives such as aiding the delta smelt or reintroducing salmon in the San Joaquin River watershed.


"There is more irony in opposing the construction of man-made and unnatural reservoirs, only to assume that existing storage water should be tapped to ensure constant, year-round river flows . Before the age of reservoir construction, when rivers sometimes naturally dried up, such an environmental luxury may have impossible during dry years.


"A final irony is that the beneficiaries of these man-made canals and dams neither allowed more water storage for others nor are willing to divert their own privileged water transfers to facilitate their own dreams of fish restoration. . . ."

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