Politics Trumps Reality in State Water Wars

Well, the water bill by Hanford GOP Rep. David Valadao that just passed the House may not ease the drought, but it did wonders to warm up the state’s political climate.

Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!

“Congressman Garamendi Opposes California Water Theft Legislation,” screamed the press release by, well, Congressman Garamendi.

Sen. Barbara Boxer called it “another divisive and discredited proposal,” while Gov Jerry Brown asked Congress to knock it off, saying the bill was “an unwelcome and divisive intrusion” into California’s none-too-successful efforts to deal with its long-running water problems.

The water bill “has nothing to do with public policy,” said Napa Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson. “It has everything to do with politics.”

Here’s a news flash for those Democrats who are shocked, shocked that Republicans would use a drought to score points in their Central Valley districts: In California, water is always about politics.

If policy was the only concern, California wouldn’t have spent the past 30-plus years arguing about the best way to deal with the state’s water woes, all without ever getting around to actually solving the problem.

Granted, the new bill was more nakedly political than the typical water skirmish. A couple of weeks after Brown announced a state of emergency because of the drought, Valadao came up with a bill that’s a Central Valley farmer’s – and GOP politician’s – wish list.

It gives the feds, not the state, with all those pesky Democrats in the Legislature, decision-making power over much of California’s water, weakens the Endangered Species Act, limits the use of water flows for environmental purposes and generally ensures that Central Valley farmers get every drop of water they want, with every other user welcome to whatever’s left.

As Calwatchdog’s Katy Grimes gleefully proclaimed on this blog the other day, it’s families before fish in the farmland.

While Valadao’s bill is likely dead on arrival in the Senate and President Obama has promised to veto it in the unlikely event it does pass, that’s less important than the fact that the first-term congressman’s district has a 47 percent to 32 percent Democratic registration edge and that Obama took 55 percent of the vote there in 2012.

Valadao is going to need all the help he can get come November and promising the sun, the moon and the water to local farmers can only help in a district where almost everyone, including Democrats, relies on the agriculture industry.

There are plenty of serious policy questions surrounding California’s continuing fight over water. In 1982, when Gov. Jerry Brown, version 1.0, called for a peripheral canal to carry water south from the Sierras, Northern Californians called it an attempt to steal “their” water and voted the ballot measure down. Since then, arguments have raged about building dams for water storage, requiring increased water conservation efforts, diverting water to restore fish habitat, the price tag for any improvements and who gets stuck with the tab.

Brown’s new $24 billion water plan, slated for the November ballot, calls for building a pair of massive tunnels to carry water under the Delta to Central and Southern California, while still providing improved water quality and environmental protection for the Delta and California wildlife. It’s fair to say that not everyone’s agrees with the governor’s solution.

It’s been a struggle to get Brown’s proposal this far and while Republicans, Democrats and independents alike agree that a forward-looking water plan is critically important to California’s future, the ballot measure’s fate is anything but certain.

But when you have Democrats outraged that water is being moved past the environmentally fragile Delta and Republicans like Elk Grove Rep. Tom McClintock complaining that water is being dumped into the ocean and wasted to protect the endangered Delta smelt, policy arguments quickly turn political.

As large and diverse as it is, California is still a single state and politicians – and voters – need to remember that. What’s best for Northern California or Central California or Southern California isn’t always best for all of California and farmers, environmentalists, developers, growing cities and water users of all stripes all have to realize they’re going to have to share what in dry years is always going to be a limited resource.

But no one gets elected – or re-elected – by telling voters what they don’t want to hear, especially if it’s true. So expect political games to continue to take the place of the hard, realistic discussion California needs to have if the state is ever going to solve its water problems.

(John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics. Originally published on Fox and Hounds.)


  1. Clarence De Barrows says

    Just a modern day re-hash of the Owens Valley debacle which Mulholland pulled off when he stole that areas water to supply the Southern California desert called Los Angeles and environs with. Read “Cadillac Desert” by Marc Reisner to see how old this political scam really is.

  2. Look, Brown while AG worked against providing water to central California Farmers, because of the NON-NATIVE Delta Smelt, the result was the loss of hundreds of thousand jobs, in the farm community, not even counting the tax revenue. And, at the same time there were still thousands of acres of lawns in the Bay Area, and LA Basin that were still green… Ask those liberal idiots if the can eat lawn…

  3. NorCalLibertarian says

    Part of the debate on the floor of the House had to do with sewage being dumped into the delta by the cities of Sacramento, Fairfield, Benicia, Vallejo and others in that area. Congressman Devin Nunes had a chart indicating these offending cities. Where is the EPA and environmentalist lawyers in this and why are they not suing these cities for pollution?

  4. The Scotsman says

    A continuing war about WATER. It appears that Governor Moonbeam is Selling Out Northern California to the Southern Californias Dumbocratic power. Jerrys father Pat Brown, several years ago, sold NorCals water to Los Angeles. Pat Brown built the Oroville Dam and ALL the necessary components to ship NorCal Water South. This he did. Now, Junior Brown is planning another Sellout of NorCals Water to the Blue Noses in Los Angeles. If these Dumbocrats are allowed to continue with these sellouts, it won’t be much longer that NorCals Water will be GONE. It will ALL be going South.
    Every Californian has the right to live wherever in California he wishes. If our wonderful, overeducated Politicians are allowed to continue with their theft of NorCals water, Only SoCal and there Golf Courses and Swimming Pools will be what is left of California.
    Moonbeam Jerry must be stopped NOW. He is a typical Democrat THIEF sitting in Sacramento watching our NorCal Water go South and planning to do more thievery of NorCals Resources!
    Wake up California Democrats, DO YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU ARE DOING TO NORTHERN CALIFORNIA? Wake up California Voters, smell the Bacon and see just what your votes are doing to our State!

    • NorCal’s water?
      You have actual title to it?
      If it isn’t used in the South, what are you going to do with it?
      I believe that the water in question is considered by the law to be a resource of the State, and therefore belongs equally to all Californians, and should be shared to its highest and best use.
      Now, many of the farmers in the San Joaquin Valley do have vested water rights, and a call on some of that water, which is used to put produce and vegetables on your table and in your larder.
      Since the effort to “save” the Delta Smelt, have you noticed an increase in the total of your grocery bill?
      I wonder what could have caused that (other than the diversion of corn to bio-fuel from ag feed)?

  5. Two things need to happen, #1. RECALL Jerry Brown, #2. Divide California into North and South!
    The state doesn’t have enough water to support that southern desert, their population explosion, fracking and wasteful agricultural practices.

  6. (1) Kalifornia needs a reliable water source for the entire state a whole lot more that it needs a bullet train.
    (2) Dianne Feinstein is the one who pushes for the “delta smelt”
    Obviously she feels that the fish are more important than humans.
    And just WHO voted ‘Throw Mama From The Train’ into political office??

Speak Your Mind