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Newsom plays politics with drought: We are not all in this together
Dennis Wyatt RGB
Dennis Wyatt

Gov. Gavin Newsom is either playing recall politics with California’s future or else it is a complete lack of understanding of how the state’s water system.

On Monday, May 10 Newsom declared a drought emergency on the San Joaquin, Sacramento, and Klamath river water basins. That impacts 41 of the state’s 58 counties. It also covers 30 percent of California’s nearly 40 million residents.

What it doesn’t cover is voter rich Southern California south of the Tehachapi Mountains.

No big deal, you might say. Their off-stream reservoirs are fairly full.

There’s one major problem with that. More than half of the water Southern California uses is imported.

It comes from three water basins that are not naturally connected with Los Angeles-San Diego. All three are in severe stress.

The Colorado River Basin has demand at a historic high and water storage at a record low.

The State Water Project, from which L.A. imports water from both the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers basins via the California Aqueduct are in extreme drought.

The Owens Valley that is being drained by the California Aqueduct was pushed years ago to a constant brink of ruin thanks to LA exploiting its water sources. It is not only in extreme drought but areas to the east are spreading toward them that could soon see the Owens Valley slip into the most acute designation — exceptional drought.

The inconvenient truth is decades ago the Los Angeles Basin’s growth surpassed its own water basin’s ability to supply the water needs of its people, businesses, and industries.

The United States Department of Agriculture drought monitor that is based on existing conditions and not recall politics places 90 percent of Los Angeles County in extreme drought as well as 70 percent of the greater LA Basin. The rest is in extreme drought.

Just in case the governor hasn’t noticed this is not the start of the Southern California rainy season.

A statewide drought emergency covering all of California is needed now.

Reduced use under a drought emergency in Southern California will reduce the potential for major disaster elsewhere if the drought — which is highly likely — extends into 2022, 2023 and even beyond that. Once water is applied to keep Beverly Hills estates lush, allow the building and filling of more swimming pools in Orange County, and used to hose down sidewalks in San Diego it is gone.

Having all 39.5 million Californians reducing and saving what we can now instead of just 10.7 million of us in northern and parts of central California means there will be more water left for all of us in 2022.

As it stands now, Newsom is willing to allow 29.8 million Californians who have more than half of their water imported from out of basin not to reduce their water use while those who reside within the basins they siphon water from will have to do so now.

Perhaps what makes the Newsom declaration seem political is the fact not only is the Sierra snowpack that supplies 30 percent of the state’s water needs of April 1 at 59 percent of normal after a second consecutive dry year but rain and snow has ended until at least November.

And to top it off two back-to-back dry years have made California tinder dry setting up what experts fear may be the worst wildfire season in history. One needs a lot of water to combat wildfires and save properties and lives.

The optics of what is likely to unfold in the coming months will be ugly.

Back in the 1976-77 drought Northern Californians were enraged when they had to cut back on water use but the south state didn’t even though much of Los Angeles was using water imported from the north state’s backyard.

The pressure was on then Gov. Jerry Brown to impose statewide drought conditions.

It happened after infamous evening news footage showed artificial lakes in a new upper scale Mission Viejo subdivision in Orange County being filled with imported water from Northern California where local residents were ordered not to flush toilets unless it involved the No. 2.

As viewers watched water pouring into the decorative lakes, the reporter has a home buyer on camera complaining that he shouldn’t have to suffer by not having ornamental lakes in his subdivision filled just because Northern California failed to develop its own water system.

If you want to rip apart the state as governor there is no better way than pitting the north against the south over water.

The truth is California built an extraordinary system of storing and transferring water from one basin to another sometimes as much as 670 miles away. That system — made possible by the bonding wealth of all of California — created the State Water Project that benefited the south state and distant farms just as much as it did communities near the dams.

It is also true that the system allowed what otherwise would have been unattainable growth not just all the way from Santa Barbara to San Diego but the San Francisco Bay Area as well.

Urban users and farms have reduced water use substantially since the 1976-77 drought and 16 percent from the most recent drought from 2011-2017. Southern California for the most part — but especially Los Angeles — has led the way in per capita water consumption reduction that is roughly a third of a typical urban user in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

The reason for the disparity is simple. New subdivisions with 7,000 to 14,000 square-foot lots have become a rarity in the Los Angeles Basin. That is significant when more than half of typical household water consumption is for outside water use with the vast majority of that going to water thirsty ornamental grass in lawns people simply look at that are not native to the California climate.

That needs to be addressed sooner than later in places where the format of residential development taxes water resources more than is necessary.

But as dead lawns return along with infrequent flushing in Northern California everyone that counts on water from north state sources needs to cut back on their use so we can have a fighting chance at skirting by in 2022 given the high likelihood of another dry year.

That, however, is not the message the governor conveyed on May 10.

Apparently as Californians we are not all in this together.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation.