Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., is working feverishly to reverse federal and state policies that give fish and rivers priority over people in the distribution of water during the worst drought in California history.
The state is now in the fourth year of the drought, and water reserves are running frighteningly low. McClintock said it’s a result of stunningly stupid policies dating back to the last time Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown was in office.
“We haven’t built a major dam in this state since 1979,” McClintock said. “Meanwhile, the population has nearly doubled. We aren’t going to solve our water problems until we begin building more dams. We can’t build more dams as long as the radical environmental laws make their construction impossible.”
Brown chalks up the shortage to climate change, saying higher temperatures mean less snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains and less water come spring.
“If you happen to worship at the church of global warming, you should be pressing very hard to build more dams,” he said. “It means, with a warmer climate, we will not be able to store as much water in the mountains as snow. Therefore, we need to store that water behind dams. Yet, Gov. Brown has been one of the leading opponents to new dam construction.”
If those rules appear hard to believe, McClintock doesn’t blame anyone.
“A year ago, I was beating the drums to sound warnings on these policies, and nobody paid any attention,” he said. “It began to occur to me, the reason they’re not paying attention is because they don’t believe me. They don’t believe that our policy could be so breathtakingly stupid as to dump millions of gallons of precious water in the middle of a drought to adjust river water temperatures.
“But those are the policies. They are being carried out. As our reservoirs now near empty, people are beginning to focus on that finally. Hopefully, it is going to cause a major re-evaluation of the many leftist environmental laws that have built up in our system over the past 20 years or so that are the very definition of lunacy.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif.:
Last week, Gov. Brown imposed water restrictions on many California residents, demanding they reduce consumption by 25 percent and face fines up to $500 if they fail to comply.
McClintock said the restrictions are not coming because reserves are tapped out but because humans are not the government’s first priority.
“We’re now in the fourth year of the worst drought in the history of California,” he said. “Yet, Brown and the environmental left continue to release what little water remains behind our dams, not for essential human consumption but rather to adjust the water temperatures in the rivers so the fish are happy.”
The congressman is working feverishly to pass House Resolution 1668, the Save Our Water Act. The bill would put an end to releasing massive amounts of water during a time of drought. Time is of the essence. Another major water release into the rivers is already scheduled.
“The Federal Bureau of Reclamation has ordered another pulse flow,” he said. “These are massive releases of water, billions of gallons of water. If this order is allowed to stand, they will drain several of our major reservoirs before the end of the summer for the fish, which means there will be no water left for the human population.”
But the issue gets even more maddening for McClintock. He said the biggest problem for the fish is not the drought but another government policy.
“Mainly, we’re talking about a three-inch minnow called the delta smelt,” he said. “In the case of the new orders, it involves steelhead trout. In most of these cases, the principal cause for the decline in the populations has nothing to do with our water projects. It has to do with non-native predator fish that were introduced into our streams and rivers by the government years ago.”
According to Reason magazine science correspondent Ronald Bailey, 50 percent of water in the reservoirs goes to the rivers and streams. And he said the vast majority of the remaining water goes to the farmers. Yet, he said the restrictions are all aimed at the people using 10 percent of the resources. He also said enforcing the restrictions requires a nanny state nightmare.
“What will happen is that they’re going to have to have a whole elaborate enforcement procedure, with people spying on their neighbors and reporting and so forth. It’s a clunky, stupid system to do it,” Bailey said.
McClintock thinks Brown has a lot of nerve imposing the restrictions.
“It’s going to be very hard for him to summon any kind of moral authority to fine people $500 if they waste a gallon of water on their lawn or sidewalk and yet have no problems wasting millions of gallons of water in the pursuit of making the fish perfectly happy,” he said.
The congressman stresses this mess is a result of federal and state policies. He said the House of Representatives is trying to restore sanity to the law, but it is racing against the clock.
“I’m very confident that we will pass that bill out of the House this year, but it will not be in time to prevent the releases that could literally drain to empty reservoirs that are now in California before we even get to the next rainy season,” he said.
Within six months, McClintock said, misguided government policies could mean the end of some towns in his state.
“Copperopolis, a community of about 10,000 in the Sierra Nevada, will simply be without water because the water we had been storing behind our dams had been released during this period for the fish,” he said. “It means that when people turn on their water faucets, no water comes out. It means entire communities dry up and blow away. These are communities of a long-neglected species, called homo sapiens.”
In addition to putting a halt on pulse flows, McClintock said the federal government needs to make other obvious changes to the laws.
“The House has acted several times now to modify those laws, to ensure that there’s an equitable distribution of water and that we approach the Endangered Species Act (ESA) requirements with a little more common sense,” he said.
“For example, why shouldn’t we be meeting these requirements (on fish numbers) by building fish hatcheries? Right now, the hatchery fish are not allowed to be included in the population counts,” he said.
But could the free market solve the problem more efficiently than changing federal laws?
Bailey thinks so.
“Giving secure property rights to water to people would be the first step toward implementing markets,” said Bailey, who believes water is badly under-priced in California, and giving farmers more options for their water could benefit everyone.
“What I would do is give free and clear title to the water to the farmers,” Bailey said. “Then they can decide if they want to farm or if they want to sell the water. My bet is that the price would be sufficiently high that a whole bunch of farmers will say, ‘You know what? I don’t need to raise any rice this year. I’m going to sell my water to San Francisco or Los Angeles.'”
McClintock said that approach fails to take the dire situation of farmers into consideration.
“The problem with that is we’ve already lost about a half-a-million acres of the most fertile farmland in America because of these regulations, compounded by the drought,” he said. “When you turn off the water to an almond orchard, for example, that’s not a one-year deal. Those trees die, and it takes many, many years to regrow them so they’re once again bearings nuts and fruit.”
While California’s water crisis is a perfect storm of a major drought and what he considers extreme California environmental policies, McClintock said the U.S. government is a major player in this, and that means the rest of America is not immune.
“This can come to any community in America at some time in the near future,” he said. “If there’s an ESA biological opinion requiring the release of this water, what that means is fish come first and people can fend for themselves.”