Agriculture

Welcome to Water Chaos, California

I’d wager most Californians have never heard the term, “Incidental Take Permit.”

It sounds innocuous, right?

In the most basic water-speak, it is a permit to lawfully operate infrastructure, as defined by Endangered Species Act.

What do you need to know? One of these incidental take permits will soon be filed and send our water ecosystem into complete chaos.

I and the good folks at The Sun have written extensively about the new Biological Opinions (or BiOps) released by the Trump administration last October.

These are documents produced with the goal of operating our state’s massive water infrastructure in a way that does not jeopardize fish species while giving us the water we need to drink, grow food, and – in the most basic sense – live.

The opinions were produced, reviewed, and reviewed again by people who represent both water and fish, scientists, water agencies, the State, and the Feds.

The list of people involved in producing these BiOps is too long to list in a column and you likely have not heard of many of them.

On a basic level, surface water (or water that arrives via rainfall) in California runs through two systems: the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project. The projects are run by the State of California and the Federal government, respectively.

They are also largely interconnected and the two projects operate through a cooperating agreement that, as you can imagine, is very complicated and takes an effort by many players so that water comes from your tap or irrigates your farm.

The Incidental Take Permit is set to serve as a bureaucratic wrench placed into the gears of the complicated legal machinery of these two projects.

Ultimately, it will contradict the agreements made between the state and Federal government, along with the BiOps.

The end result: chaos. Water operators will face a situation they have never dealt with before and expensive litigation that will last years will commence.

At the end of it all, the people and farmers in the Golden State will wind up scratching their heads wondering what happened to their water.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has visited the Central Valley on several occasions, pitching a message of inclusion and optimism to seemingly pursue the success of water delivery to an area where water delivery is absolutely significant to the entire country.

The new opinions released during his term are an opportunity for the Governor to embrace the latest, most cutting-edge, and irrefutable science known in water management today.

In a state where water has made headlines as much, if not more than any other issue, new guidelines backed by this massive effort was a political gift for the Governor.  

Those new BiOps not only guide water to the Central Valley, they also convey it to 25 million people in America’s second largest city and beyond in Southern California.

Instead, what happens? In a political gambit, Newsom delivers a pre-emptive strike to President Donald Trump and files a lawsuit to jeopardize the water source for those millions of Californians.

It hasn’t panned out exactly as Newsom would have hoped. Since filing the suit, both State Water Contractors (those users who receive their water from infrastructure controlled by Newsom) and Central Valley Project users (whose water come from Federal pumps) have defended the new opinions issued by Trump

Back to the issue at-hand: how could this Incidental Take Permit, a simple stack of papers from Newsom’s administration, generate unmitigated chaos?

By including widely-expected mandates that contradict mandates governing the Central Valley Project.

Two differing sets of mandates over California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta would not only severely hamper operations, but Californians would undoubtedly see more water unnecessarily go straight to the ocean.

Politicizing water in California is certainly nothing new, and our State has been very successful as an exporter of water.

We export more water to the ocean than any other state in the U.S.

And while no one can deny the difference of opinion between Gov. Newsom and President Trump, we’ve hit a point that goes far beyond differences of opinion. 

Newsom appears willing to put the future of his own people at risk. Is he willing to put the economic security of his own state at risk merely because of his distaste for the President?

Or simply put: are people willing to endure all this potential economic peril for one politician to win an arm-wrestling contest?

Yet, Gov. Newsom is not alone.

Valley water associations and grower groups also have members, paid executives, and lobbyists who join in the chorus of Trump hate, despite tangible results for themselves.

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your own face.

Yet, all too many farmers nod their heads at the so-called “wisdom” from these executives and political insiders without questioning their motives or results.

For lobbyists and these water and ag advocacy executives, it is the hope that appeasing members and placating to the correct politicians leads them to a better, higher-paying gig.

For the Governor and his sidekicks, such as Attorney General Xavier Becerra, it is a combination of hatred and long-sought social re-engineering of our state.

For the rest of us, it is about the use of our money and the sacrifices we will have to make.

Despite his rhetoric to appease farmers into slightly-less disastrous voluntary agreements – which are dead on arrival with this chaotic incidental take permit – it is a near-certainty that water litigation will be the ultimate legacy of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Wayne Western, Jr.
Wayne Western, Jr. the The Sun’s Agriculture Pulse contributor, writing on the San Joaquin Valley’s agricultural community and water issues.