Sunday, April 05, 2015


I am glad Jerry Brown is the current governor of California, not because I have any particular like for the man, but because Meg Whitman would have been utterly catastrophic. Never trust anyone who spends $140 million of their own money trying to get a job that pays less than $175k.

That said, it is less than encouraging to see that Brown's tough talk on measures to deal with the state's ongoing drought will amount to very little. This is simple math:  if 80% of usage is from agriculture, forget a 25% reduction -- everyone else could completely stop using water overnight, and it's only going to help so much. And a reduction is only going to be enforceable for places like cemeteries and golf courses anyway, and they'll just pay the fine.

Someone who was serious about conserving water would look at some of the more egregious examples, such as why we're growing alfalfa -- far and away the most water-intensive crop -- to make hay to ship to China. Or why farmers up and down the state have switched deliberately over to more profitable (yet again, very water-intensive) crops like almonds, pistachios, wine grapes, beef cattle.

There's a certain amount of hypocrisy built into all of this. Like most people, I like steak and wine and pistachios. But I'm willing to pay a premium for those things. And I'm on a well, so when we run out, it's going to cost money to either punch a deeper well, or get a tank setup and have water trucked in.

And that's the crux of the problem -- the farmers aren't willing to pay the same premium. They take the cheap water, and the gubmint subsidies. And outside the cities, most of the pols are owned and operated by agricultural interests. As every native Californian knows, Chinatown is a documentary. As the old saying goes, whiskey's for drinkin', water's for fightin' over.

It would make more sense to charge everyone more across the board, farmers and consumers alike. You want to use up millions of scarce acre-feet of water to grow hay to send to China? Then you pay the true cost. Are you sinking a 900' ag well to tap an aquifier that might take decades or centuries to replenish at this rate? Then you pay the true cost. Do you enjoy almond milk, or steak? Then....well, you guessed it.

Until something along that line occurs, the governor's grand idea matters very little, perhaps not at all. For years California has had this never-ending boondoggle of a high-speed rail system, a bullet train to fucking Fresno that has vastly exceeded its initial cost estimates, and has no signs of starting anytime in the future, near or far. We put a man on the moon, but it took this state twenty goddamned years to upgrade the Bay Bridge, and it looks like the high-speed rail will make that look like nothing.

If we're looking for a Great Project to throw money at, maybe it's time to get serious about building desalination plants, rather than making sure people can get to Fresno more quickly. (Snark aside, California's main north-south state highways, Interstate 5 and Highway 99, are in wretched shape, constantly in repair and over-trafficked.) That would be infinitely more effective than writing people up for watering their lawns, especially when they're already conserving to begin with. The people who need to be conserving the most aren't even being asked to conserve at all.

Then again, maybe the people of California deserve exactly what they're getting, at least some of them.

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