Jack Nicholson in Chinatown movie
Patty Poire President, Kern County Farm Bureau
Patty Poire, President, Kern County Farm Bureau

By Patty Poire, President, Kern County Farm Bureau

Over the weekend, I was thinking about the movie Chinatown and how most people don’t realize that the movie was really about water and Los Angeles! It was set in time prior to the construction of the California Aqueduct; however, the famous line from the movie, “Either you bring the water to L.A., or you bring L.A. to the water” makes one wonder. The same can be said about farming in the San Joaquin Valley, where the construction of the California Aqueduct brought the water to where the soils and weather are the best in the world to produce fruits and vegetables to feed the country and the world. What both L.A. and agriculture have in common about bringing the water to them is that both have paid for that infrastructure to deliver the water. The entire state of California has benefited from that, including disadvantaged communities, many industries, and the tax revenue that the state legislators and governor enjoy.

One then wonders what has changed that now water is scarce! Pick up any newspaper in California and somewhere in that newspaper is an article about the drought and climate change. Is it really climate change or policy decisions that have triggered water scarcity? Apparently, back in 2014, California voters knew enough about the needs of the state as it pertained to water and infrastructure and voted for a $900 million proposition that included new infrastructure to hold excess water in wet years to be used in droughts. But what has been constructed after almost 8 years?! Now the governor has come out with his “California Water Supply Strategy” that seems to attempt to move forward water infrastructure that could have been storing water or almost constructed. It has the following:

Develop new water supplies

Reuse at least 800,000-acre feet of water per year by 2030- and 1.8-million-acre feet by 2040

Expand brackish groundwater desalination production by 28,000-acre feet per year and 84,000-acre feet per year by 2040

Expand water storage capacity above and below ground by 4-million-acre feet

Expand average annual groundwater recharge by at least 500,000-acre feet

Work to complete the seven Prop 1 supported storage projects and consider funding other viable surface storage projects

Expand San Luis Reservoir by 135,000-acre feet

Rehabilitate dams to regain storage capacity

Support local stormwater capture projects in cities and towns with the goal to increase annual supply capacity by at least 250,000-acre feet by 2030- and 500,000-acre feet by 2040

Reduce demand

Build on conservation efforts to reduce annual water demand in towns and cities by at least a million-acre feet by 2030

Help stabilize groundwater supplies

Improve forecasting, data and management including water rights modernization

Improve flexibility of current water systems to move water throughout the state

Modernize water rights administration for equity, access, flexibility and transparency

These are good strategies; however, strategies don’t necessarily mean actual infrastructure or results. What would be a true direction about actually achieving the strategies that the Governor has released was for him to also use his governor authority to exempt infrastructure projects from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) where all those strategies will be held up.

It will be interesting to see something similar to the Proposition 1 voted by voters in 2014, as to how many of his strategies actually come true in the next 8 or so years. Why fix the problem when policy decision makers can continue to control? In the meantime, the agricultural industry does more with less water, but it’s unclear how long that will continue.