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.


Share This

15 thoughts on “Mythologies and Pathologies of the California Drought”

  1. 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. Proudly Unaffiliated

    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?

    1. 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”.

  3. “… 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.

  4. 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).

  5. This is the right web site for anybody who wishes to find out about this topic.
    You know so much its almost tough to argue with you (not that I personally will
    need to…HaHa). You certainly put a brand new spin on a subject which has been discussed for a long time.
    Wonderful stuff, just wonderful!

  6. 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.

    1. might makes right

      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.

  7. 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.


    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.

  9. Pingback: THE GREAT CALIFORNIA DROUGHT | Stephen Golay

  10. Richard T. Haight

    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! )

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *