Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Mythologies and Pathologies of the California Drought

by Victor Davis Hanson // PJMedia

silicon_valley_duck_race_3-30-14-1 The 4th Annual Silicon Valley Rubber Duck Race in Vasona Lake Park on June 12, 2011, in Los Gatos, California.

The 4th Annual Silicon Valley Rubber Duck Race in Vasona Lake Park on June 12, 2011, in Los Gatos, California.

The third year of California drought has exposed all sorts of water fantasies. If in wet years they were implicit, now without rain or snow for nearly three years, they are all too explicit. Add them up.

Take the Bay Area, Ground Zero of water environmentalism. From Mill Valley to San Jose is where most of the green activists are based who have demanded, even as the snowfalls and rains ceased, that reservoir storage waters be diverted to the sea to encourage the resurgence of the delta smelt and river salmon. The Bay Area’s various earlier lobbying groups long ago helped to cancel the final phases of the California State Water Project and the Central Valley Project, and now talk about reducing world carbon emissions rather than building more storage capacity to solve California’s water crisis.

How odd that is — given that the San Francisco greater community has almost no aquifer to supply its millions. Environmentalists count instead solely on vast water transfers from the far distant Hetch Hetchy reservoir to supply the nearly three million water users of the Bay Area with their daily showers and lawn irrigations.

The brilliantly engineered project supposedly had ruined a Yosemite Park valley greater than its more famous counterpart below Half Dome and El Capitan. Odder still, the Hetch Hetchy conduits run right across the San Joaquin River that environmentalists are intent on supplying with reservoir water long ago designed for irrigated agriculture. When most Bay Area drivers cruise along the I-280 by the full-to-the-brim Crystal Springs Reservoir they have not a clue that the lake would be little more than a muddy slough of scant local runoff, without the importation of thousands of acre-feet of clean water from the Hetch Hetchy project. Nor do they grasp the greater irony that they have reservoir water to divert to fish only because someone else built the reservoirs that they near automatically oppose. Consider the logic: don’t dare build an unnatural reservoir to irrigate food lands; but if you dare build it over my opposition, I want the ensuing banked water to ensure the rivers run year-round for my fish projects — given that before your artificial reservoirs the rivers sometimes had a bad natural habit of running dry and suffocating my fish.

Could not Bay Area professors, journalists and politicians shower once a week or let their garden foliage die on the greater sacrificial altar of diverting Hetch Hetchy water into the San Joaquin River to save the smelt or facilitate salmon runs? After all, at least farmers can claim they are producing food for the masses with reservoir water. But what do Facebook and Apple techies claim — that without a verdant garden they cannot design social networking? In 1990 there was no Facebook or Google and people continued to live; without food they cannot at any time.

A larger point is that 70% of Californians prefer to live in places like the naturally arid seaside resorts of San Diego, Santa Monica, Malibu, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Carmel, Santa Cruz, and the Bay Area, coastal communities whose growth long ago both outpaced the local aquifers and Coast Range small reservoirs, and thus required water transfers from wetter environs.

If greens were going to match their advocacy with concrete action, they would move from Santa Cruz or Mill Valley to Eureka or Yuba City where the rain falls — or at least inward to Fresno and Visalia where for eons runoff from the nearby Sierra has created a vast aquifer of easily accessible and clean ground water. Barring that, Menlo Park could shower on “smelt-free Mondays,” while Palo Alto could restore the salmon by paving over its lawns. In an honest world, we would admit that the Madera resident is far more ecologically attuned to his environment than is the Presidio Heights grandee or UC professor ensconced in the dry Berkeley Hills. The former at least chooses to live atop an aquifer, the latter assumes someone else had long ago found a way to import him his nightly shower from far across the state and at far greater cost.

In other words, the California coastal strip is an environmentally unwise place to locate millions of Californians; its swarms exist largely by water transfers from either Northern California or the Sierra Nevada mountains. And yet far too many of its inhabitants have a bad habit of pontificating about water usage for others.

Then we come to the matter of population. California is no longer the 15 million person state that once was adequately served by our forefathers’ water-transfer projects. It is not even the 40 million person state that our ancestors warned could survive long droughts (but only if their descendants of course finish the state and federal water projects). It is instead a 40 million person state with a 20 million person system of reservoirs and canals. In that regard, California’s population would long ago have stayed static, given the recent three decade exoduses of millions of residents tired of high income, sales, and gas taxes, and poor roads, schools, and law enforcement in return.

The great equalizer was illegal immigration. Millions of impoverished arrivals from Mexico and Latin America, since the latest and largest immigration wave of the last forty years, largely explain why the state continues to grow. Aside from the question of legality and whether such massive influxes were a wise or unwise occurrence, most can agree that our liberal establishment welcomed illegal immigration (along with agribusiness, construction industries, and hotels and restaurants), but without any commensurate desire to build the sort of infrastructure that would ensure such new Californians sufficient water — not to mention jobs in industries like irrigated agriculture, timber, gas and oil drilling, construction, and mining. Instead, the out-of-sight/out-of-mind liberal mindset welcomed millions of foreign nationals in, but then pursued an ever more exclusionary and mostly elite environmentalism that ensured a 40 million person state, but one without the water or employment opportunities to allow rough parity among its diverse residents.

The current drought is a product of nature, which has a bad periodic habit of withholding rain and snow over California, a natural occurring and long-recorded phenomenon that has nothing to do with global warming. We used to accept that fact and its corollary: most Californians preferred to live where there was the least amount of state rain and snow — and were willing to pay for the necessary infrastructure to make showering in Malibu or Monterey as natural as in Crescent City or Lake Tahoe. But as in most of California’s existential crises — budgeting, infrastructure, pensions, immigration, education, law enforcement — the problem lies in its thin coastal corridor, a surreal place where liberal grandees assume that they are exempt from the chaotic ramifications of their own utopian ideologies.

California’s real motto is “We think it up, you live it out.”

Copyright © 2014 Works and Days. All rights reserved.

 

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

15 Thoughts on “Mythologies and Pathologies of the California Drought

  1. Santa Cruzan on September 2, 2014 at 9:04 am said:

    Minor correction – Santa Cruz does not receive any water from anywhere else. It’s all local. Santa Cruz declined to be part of the State Water Project. Our water comes only from rain filling our reservoirs and groundwater.

    Of course, that doesn’t stop people here from bitterly complaining about southern California stealing “our” water, even though nobody gets our water (and we get no water from elsewhere).

  2. Craig S. Bell on September 2, 2014 at 9:32 am said:

    It’s ironic how a trendy, P.C. farming practice is not also widely criticized for it’s heavy water use.
    http://www.breitbart.com/Breitbart-California/2014/07/23/California-Pot-Farms-Use-50-More-Water-Than-San-Francisco

  3. Proudly Unaffiliated on September 2, 2014 at 1:38 pm said:

    The funny thing is this: coastal California has plenty of water– for all intents and purposes an infinite supply. This water storage supply is generally called the Pacific Ocean. Let them build and run desalination plants and water will not be a problem though I am sure the leftist whining will remain high and probably increase because this is a deterministic, no-BS solution. Water is plentiful and never goes away but when you want a specified quantity of it in a certain place in a specific condition, you have to pay for that.

    Clean water delivered to your door costs money. How much do you want?

    • Very good point. Actually the “wasted” funds that are going to the “train to nowhere” project could have been used to build 10 desalination plants. Liberals are really “sick”.

  4. Check out the current reservoirs status in California. It is very scary, especially the northern and central part of the state (agriculture area).

    http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cdecapp/resapp/getResGraphsMain.action

  5. “… a surreal place where liberal grandees assume that they are exempt from the chaotic ramifications of their own utopian ideologies.”

    This is a description of all of the U.S.A.? And mostly all of D.C.

  6. JohnnyBoy on October 30, 2014 at 8:15 am said:

    Carol – yes, this is exactly the situation. But, in the pursuit of Utopia, logic is consigned to second place, far behind the heart-thumping excitement of an agenda whose time has come. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, and we want what we want when we want it and we want it now (with apologies to Jim Morrison).

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  8. First, let’s mention that the Indians and the Spanish were in California long before the Europeans and the Anglos. So who are the immigrants?

    And btw, Arizona and Nevada – both desert areas – are perhaps also overpopulated given the water supply. But the problem in these two states is the influx of white/ Anglos from the North and East.

    Further, there are other immigrat groups to California. Chinese and other Asians – not just Mexicans.

    I know the hatred on the right wing for the Mexicans has been festering for sometime now, ever since the economic crash in 2008, during your favorite president Dubya Bushs reign. You need a scapegoat in hard times, so why not the Mexicans?

    It’s amazing how racist the consevasive right wing sounds these days.

    • might makes right on October 4, 2015 at 2:40 pm said:

      Army commanders have the final say on who owns what. Currently California is being invaded. The commanders of this army are hidden and are using shills to lull useful idiots into looking the other way. It may or may not work out for them. Time will tell. Actions in the middle east are about to crack the new-world-order wide open. Have a stock of food and water to last you a week or two. Make friends with people who know how to shoot and buy a gun and ammunition. Surround yourself with good people who know how to do useful things. SF will be looted and burnt to the ground within 48 hours of things going bad. No one can save you but yourself.

  9. Dan K. on January 12, 2015 at 9:47 pm said:

    The California drought is a weather event [read short-term meteorological event] that doesn’t rest on the possibility of climate change [read long term meteorological event] that might be driven by carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. You cheapen the science and confuse the public by mixing the topic with social/political/economic anecdotes and comparisons.

  10. helen1005@aol.com on February 16, 2015 at 7:58 am said:

    The California drought of 1975 to 1978 was not as severe as our today’s drought due to population of this state was half of what it is now. Finding myself in the unfortunate event of sitting at the same restaurant table
    With a San Francisco techie who knew I was from Los Angeles, he spent most of his dinner leaning over his plate sneering at me and blaming me for the drought. In his narrow, petty, mechanical mind, he had reasoned that anyone who did not live in his vicinity was the problem.

  11. Pingback: THE GREAT CALIFORNIA DROUGHT | Stephen Golay

  12. Richard T. Haight on May 10, 2015 at 1:14 am said:

    What everyone here seems to ignore or forget, is that more water than the state uses elsewhere, flows out through the Sacramento River Delta, with no effort to save or re-capture. Once it hits Suisun bay, it is Salt water and non-usable! But even worse, is that before it hits the bay, it is sold at grossly subsidized rates to farmers, by the federal government, to irrigate “Surplus” crops! (Crops that (A) cannot be profitably farmed without the water subsidy, and (B) we have little or no use for… Example? Rice, a water intensive, low demand crop! )

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