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California must adopt specific water goals, rules

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POSTED December 17, 2009 2:23 a.m.
They huff and they puff over global warming, the budget, the prison system, and education.

They pontificate like a broken record about campaign reform while dabbling in issues such as whether to legalize marijuana and same-sex marriage.

Yet the California Legislature continues to ignore the one thing that nothing will work without – water.

This state built the greatest water conveyance system the world has ever known to turn arid valleys and coastal plains into fertile fields and teaming cities.

Yes, they threw together an $11 billion water bond package but it is one that is defined by generalities and not specifics. There’s money for more storage but where? Why can’t the 120 men and women we elected to lead make the real big decisions that count? The answer is easy. They are more concerned about their political hide than they are sustaining California’s future.

Yes, there is danger in saying raise Shasta Dam. Yes, it can trigger a political tsunami to have the legislature back Auburn Dam. And, yes, pushing to build a bigger Friant Dam could prompt various groups to target those who backed such a plan in the next election.

The San Joaquin Valley water aquifer has plunged nearly 400 feet since the early 1960s.The drought is making it worse. Before much longer, our natural underground reservoirs will be coming up dry meaning even more pressure on the state’s already stressed reservoir system.

This may come as a shock to folks in Sacramento but agriculture is the state’s No. 1 industry – and employer. Also, what they produce is what we eat.

It is also true that rapid depletion of aquifers have destroyed civilizations. It almost wiped out massive segments of the Midwest in this country by helping trigger the Great Dust Bowl that - when combined with the Great Depression - was nothing less than devastating.

It won’t surprise you one iota to know that the state doesn’t regulate how much water is pumped out of underground aquifers in California.

Why would they when the legislature has avoided all the real hard decisions such as cutting government by streamlining the bureaucracy by ending duplication between agencies, and real education reform.

So what should the California Legislature do?

•Require urban recipients of State Water Project water to make it mandatory that front yards of new developments can no longer have grass and must use landscaping that consumes less water.

•Make it mandatory when all homes sell – new or existing – that before they close escrow irrigation systems that have moisture sensors be installed and hooked to a control device that can be controlled remotely by cities and water agencies to regulate the times and days that they can be turned on.

•Prohibit the planting of heavy water use crops such as rice from being allowed to use water from the State Water Project.

•Regulate the pumping of water from underground aquifers while at the same time generating additional reservoir space to replace the water used.

•Pass a law prohibiting environmental protection to be extended to non-native fishes and riparian species.

•Require coastal cities of 50,000 or more residents to start securing 20 percent of their water from desalination plants by 2025 or else cap water use at 2009 levels.

•Require large corporate farmers – regardless if they get their water from the Central Valley Project, underground aquifers, or either water sources – to reduce water consumption per acre to match crops that are grown by operations under 300 acres. This is a nod to those who believe the major corporations that run ag operations are not as thrifty with water use as the small guys who can’t make money if they waste water due to its cost.

•Ban flood irrigation of orchards and vine crops and establish deadlines to switch to pressurized delivery systems.

•Require new homes built after 2015 to have gray water systems installed that will allow for the recycling of water in a pressurized system to irrigate back yard grass. Require detergents and soap products used in washing machines and for bath tub or shower uses to be non-harmful to grass and possibly ornamental trees.

Right now all the state can come up with are pompous sounding broad goals and lofty policy statements. With 38 million people and counting, the time has come for the state to make sure water is treated for what it really is – the modern day equivalent of gold.
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