Commentary: A chance for some relief from the regulatory drought in California

Issue Date: February 17, 2010
Paul Wenger

Paul Wenger

"Make hay when the sun shines" best describes how farmers and ranchers go about their daily dealings with the challenges of weather.

The popular subject nowadays is climate change, but like it or not, climate and weather are never constant and are always changing. From huge swings in temperature, wind, rain and snow, farmers adapt and take advantage of what Mother Nature delivers. Their very success depends on the ability to plan for the variability of weather conditions and take actions that will minimize the extremes they know they will face.

Our state, once considered the Golden State, has been the envy of the world for developing an economy that is the fifth largest in the world. Much of that success has been due to the planning of our forefathers, who provided the infrastructure that would allow us to become an economic powerhouse. At the very core of that infrastructure was the development of water storage and conveyance systems, which allowed for water to be stored from times and places of plenty, to be used in times and areas of shortage. It was this reliability of the key ingredient of life—water—that has helped California's farm community to feed not only our state, but a good part of the world.

Today, that system is under attack. California has stretched and strained a water system that has not been improved upon or expanded for more than 30 years. Our population of 38 million is taxing a water infrastructure system designed for half that many.

Well-intentioned legislation like the Endangered Species Act has proven to be inflexible and has caused harm to our state's economic well-being that is not sustainable.

Due to the rigidity of the ESA, water deliveries from the delta to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California have been nearly shut off. Due to the pumping restrictions from ESA listings such as for the delta smelt, hundreds of thousands of acres of productive agricultural land have been idled and the workers who farmed that land have been forced to become unemployed. At a time when everyone is looking for economic stimulus, millions of dollars of economic productivity is being halted.

After three years of drought, Mother Nature has provided abundant rain and snowfall that holds the promise of breaking this dry spell. However, because of the ESA, water is not being pumped from the high flows but going out to the ocean through the delta, and the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California will continue to suffer a regulatory-induced drought. We should be storing this water during this time of excess flows for use when we need it most.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is proposing to do just that. Understanding the needs of balancing environmental protection while providing for the needs of our state's human population, Sen. Feinstein is proposing the Emergency Temporary Water Supply Amendment. This amendment will provide a two-year relief from the current regulatory drought.

Like the farmers who "make hay when the sun is shining," we need to take advantage of high water flows that are being lost every day, so we can use them later in the year to provide jobs, food and personal well-being for thousands of people. Sen. Feinstein is to be applauded for her leadership in finding workable solutions to inflexible situations.

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.