Clean water is California’s most vital need. Our lives and the lives of future generations depend on it.
Yet when it comes to protecting the state’s supply, Gov. Gavin Newsom is failing California.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta provides drinking water to 27 million Californians, or roughly 70% of the state’s residents. On Feb. 15, the governor signed an executive order allowing the State Water Resources Control Board to ignore the state requirement of how much water needs to flow through the Delta to protect its health.
It’s an outrageous move right out of Donald Trump’s playbook. Big Ag and its wealthy landowners, including some of Newsom’s political financial backers, will reap the benefits while the Delta suffers.
The move is especially outrageous given the January storms that filled California’s reservoirs and created a massive Sierra snowpack. If the governor won’t adhere to the state regulations in what is clearly a wet year, when will he?
This isn’t the first time Newsom has ignored the needs of the Delta. In 2019, he bowed to Big Ag’s pressure and vetoed SB 1, legislation that would have established as state standards the federal environmental protections that existed before Trump became president. Newsom instead chose to continue the Trump standards weakening the federal regulations promulgated under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
We would be more sympathetic to agriculture’s needs if it made more responsible use of the state’s limited water supply. Agriculture accounts for only about 3% of California’s overall economy. Yet it receives 80% of the state’s available water.
The Central Valley supplies about 25% of the nation’s food and 40% of its fruits and vegetables. The water required to ensure the production of those crops is essential. But Newsom should be insisting that agriculture make the smartest use possible of its water so California’s residents and the state’s other industries also have the water they need to thrive.
That’s not happening.
Instead, water-intensive almond and pistachio orchards account for roughly 10% of agriculture’s water use, enough to supply half of California’s population. But 65% of California’s almond and pistachio crops are sent to China and India, padding the pocketbooks of wealthy landowners such as billionaires Stewart and Linda Resnick, whose orchards produce more almonds and pistachios than any other landowners in California. The Resnicks were the second largest donors to the Stop the Republican Recall of Governor Newsom and Newsom for California Governor 2022 campaigns, giving $314,800.
Meanwhile, the ecosystem of the Delta, the largest estuary west of the Mississippi, continues its decline. The concern goes beyond the troubling low numbers of Delta smelt and Chinook salmon recorded every year. The growing increase in algae blooms and the increased salinity levels generated by low water flows threaten the quality of the fresh water used by one-third of the Bay Area.
It’s past time for the governor to make smarter use of the state’s limited water supplies.
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