Jul 15, 2015

McCarthy in USA TODAY: California can grow greater still if we’re smart about water

WATER3

USA Today | July 15, 2015

California is at a crossroads. A historic drought now into its fourth year confronts us with the choice of either measured decline or renewed prosperity.

Will we concede that we have reached our ecological and technological limits? Or will we face this challenge as generations of Californians have before us with the perseverance and innovation unique to the Golden State?

As a fourth generation Californian, I can say with confidence that it is against our nature to give up now.

Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown called for a 25% overall reduction in urban water use throughout the state — a punitive, yet inevitable, decision given the years of federal and state water mismanagement. Now, urban and suburban areas are beginning to feel the pain that California’s Central Valley farmers and communities have endured for years.

“You can’t just live the way you always have,” the governor told Californians. “It’s a different world. We have to act differently.”

There is a tinge of resignation in his words, premised on the thought that California’s growth, expansion, and independent way of life may have reached their peak.

California has experienced many droughts before, and we always knew more would come. But the difference today is that we did not prepare for this drought with proper foresight, and government policy has made the problem worse.

Regulations based on outdated and incomplete science along with lawsuits from environmental activists mean that water from the rainy and snowy northern part of the state continues to be redirected out to sea rather than to communities in the Central Valley or southern California. Since December, the state and the federal government have allowed enough rain to supply hundreds of thousands of suburban homes for a year to flow out to the ocean, all because of fear that fish might otherwise be harmed. Meanwhile, nobody knows if the labyrinth of environmental policies even protects the fish it’s meant to help.

Making the problem worse, storage projects that are critical for mitigating effects of future droughts and that California voters approved have been in federal regulatory purgatory for over a decade as feasibility studies crawl their way through the paperwork process.

Sacramento has also set ridiculous fiscal priorities as well. Gov. Brown continues to waste millions on a high-speed rail project that the people don’t even want while additional water infrastructure options are never built. By some estimates, current federal and state money earmarked for high-speed rail, combined with funding from the recent water bond, would be almost enough to raise three dams and build two new reservoirs in our state.

Right now, failed policies from state and Federal agencies have offered California one option: focus on conservation, measure our expectations for the future, and bring California back in time closer to the smallness of its pre-Golden Age past.

I have a different vision. Though we can’t legislate rain, we can overcome federal and state policies that are exacerbating this historic drought if we choose the path that frees California to grow.

Dating back to the 1950’s, water systems connected the previously disjointed wet Northern California to the more arid central and southern parts of the state. Building a world-class water resource management system allowed California to grow from 20 million to 40 million people and become the seventh largest economy in the world.

We have the ability to build on our great history of success if only Democrats join us in making the right choices.

House Republicans have, for the fourth time in three years, put forward a water plan that reforms the federal government’s role in determining the livelihood of Californians. Our proposal puts science at the center of regulatory decision-making so that more water is delivered from the north to parched communities throughout the state without preempting laws such as the Endangered Species Act. We also take a long-term approach by increasing water storage projects, building upon our efficiency and recycling measures, and streamline the regulatory approval of critical water infrastructure needs.

I believe California’s future will be even better than its past. Meaningful changes to our water management systems and regulatory regime can create a future of increased prosperity, not managed decline, and it’s long past time we made such reforms. California has never accepted failure and nothing — not even this drought — will make us start.

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