“Governors can’t make rain.”
The words of a true seminarian who understands rain is the forte of either nature or divine providence.
California, though, doesn’t need a student of faith. It needs a governor.
And while Jerry Brown’s flippant off-the-cuff remark is true, it wasn’t a good omen as he huddles with advisors on whether to declare a drought emergency.
Brown contends there is only so much the state government can do. He also thinks this is simply a rehash of the 1976-1977 drought that happened during his first tour in the governor’s office. There are four major differences.
• Reservoirs are significantly lower than at the start of 1977.
• Water tables in some spots have dropped over 50 feet since then.
• There are 16 million more Californians.
• The Colorado River Basin is also under severe drought plus population has boomed in Nevada, Colorado and Utah.
Simply declaring a state water emergency and to adopt “Yellow is Mellow” slogans to urge people not to end every trip to the bathroom with a flush or citing gutter flooders is not going to do the trick.
Nor will tackling the Rubik’s Cube of water rights — origin, riparian, and others — that interlock. You can’t make any move to solve the puzzle without someone grabbing the cube and going in another direction or suing to get an injunction.
And the biggest folly of all — the governor’s $23 billion twin tunnels — will accomplish nothing in the short run or long run. The governor’s own words essentially verify it is a boondoggle. Remember, governors can’t make rain.
The twin tunnels will not increase the net available water for Californians.
There is only one way to do that and it isn’t building the Auburn Dam although that project would provide an incremental increase in water storage.
The solution is desalinization.
Unlike the Sierra that is essentially the state’s largest reservoir in terms of snowpack, the Pacific Ocean isn’t going to run out of water any time soon.
The Twin Tunnels supposedly will be partially financed by Los Angeles water users and others in the Southland. Conservative estimates indicate the cost of water bills in the greater LA area would jump by at least $100 a month. And at the end of the day there would still be no more water in the bucket to divvy up.
Spend that $23 billion on desalinization plants in Southern California and all of a sudden they have a water source that is local and they don’t have to fight everyone else in California to secure it.
Expanding recycled wastewater use instead of returning treated wastewater to the ocean also will increase water supplies.
Water recycling technology is very effective. If you don’t that consider the fact the space shuttle has no source of water other than what it departed earth with.
Of course, none of this will address the immediate problem we face although it will provide more water supplies in the future.
What we need now is a governor who is willing to become the undisputed poster child for water conservation.
Brown needs to use his office and media status to whip up public consciousness about water and to hammer home how important it is not to waste a drop. At least once a week he needs to be somewhere in California with the media in tow. He could walk through fallow fields or orchards of dying trees. He could meet with idled farm workers. He could stand in front of public fountains shooting up plumes of water and talk about how Californians elsewhere can no longer flush toilet every time. He could walk across the exposed bottom of reservoirs where the dried mud cracks in the summer heat.
Governors can’t make it rain but they can lead the charge for water conservation and remind us day in and day out that we are all in this together as Californians.
The drought is obviously not Brown’s fault.
But he wanted to be the leader of California.
The drought — or water for that matter — isn’t as sexy or breaking edge high tech as the bullet train project that Brown is determined to leave as his legacy.
Water, though, is a basic building block of any great civilization. And nowhere on the planet has water been harnessed as effectively by storing it and moving it from one spot to another to transform a political province than it has in California.
The governor needs to seize the moment. He can lead the campaign to save Californians from hurting themselves through the wanton waste of water. And he can build a legacy that will fuel California for generations to come if he simply deep sixes the high speed rail and help direct resources into desalinization plants.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 249-3519.