Agriculture · View

As Calif. enters historic drought, Washington focuses on… coral reefs.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that California and other parts of the western United States are enduring another dry year. While sensational and dramatic headlines include phrases such as “mega-drought” and “long-term drought,” we quickly forget that just a few years ago, we experienced one of the wettest years on record.

Now, it is another dry year. Not just dry because we had less rain and snow this past winter but because three decades of environmental policy forced every extra drop of water to the ocean when Mother Nature provided, while completely disregarding the ability and reasons for the existence of current infrastructure.

Here we go again.

You might think water in the west – including California – is the main topic for discussion and problem solving among politicians both in Washington D.C. and Sacramento at times such as these.

While California citizens owe over $1 billion in water debt, while increasing acreage that supplies the United States with food goes fallow, while farmworkers lose jobs, and while sewage continues to leak into the Delta, surely governmental agencies, committees, and their bureaucratic tax collectors have a very clear view of their priorities, right?

You might think everyone realizes the dire situation our nation’s food supply is about to experience, right?

The U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior issued a joint statement on the “Western water crisis,” formed a drought task force on drought and the Secretary of Agriculture has declared 50 counties in California “as primary natural disaster areas due to a recent drought.”

Of course, any sensible person would think this is a top priority in order to ensure water delivery to people and farms.

Not if you’re a member of the House Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee (otherwise affectionately known as the “WOW Subcommittee).

Their topic for discussion during an April 27 hearing was entitled Wildlife Trafficking and the Growing Online Marketplace.”  

The Subcommittees next meeting topic, scheduled for Tuesday? Coral Reef Conservation.

It appears the topic of human suffering is not a priority of this Subcommittee. In a letter sent on the same day as the WOW panel’s Wildlife Trafficking hearing, California Republicans on Capitol called on House Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva (D–Ariz.), subcommittee Chairman Rep. Jared Huffman (D–San Rafael), and ranking members Bruce Westerman (R–Ark.) and Cliff Bentz (R–Ore.) for the complete lack of regard and effort toward real-time crisis.

Unbelievably, the Democratic Majority agenda for the Tuesday’s subcommittee hearing is solely focused on coral reefs. Meanwhile, the majority has stubbornly refused to add to the agenda the reauthorization of Subtitle J of Title III of the WIIN Act. Farmers and water managers know this legislation is absolutely imperative in dealing with drought conditions.

Grijalva seems to attack the delivery of water to Californians while ignoring the crisis when water is short.

He is the same Chairman who sought to undermine 2019 Federal Biological Opinions issued to govern the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

And while concern for coral reefs is legitimate, drought in the west during a developing crisis would seem more pressing at this time.

Perhaps Mr. Grijalva can have a staff member drive an hour to see what is happening at Biosphere 2. 

Chairman Jared Huffman should also know first-hand the crisis developing in his own backyard.

After a stint at NRDC championing the San Joaquin River Restoration Project before becoming a member of Congress, I am sure he is mindful how valuable the water would be now to people and farms which he once fought as a lawyer to send to the ocean.

In fact, of the 26 Democratic members of the Natural Resources committee, eight are from California.

The message to Californians is – while the lack of water could be catastrophic in fighting wildfires, will catalyze into rationing quantities of water and drive up its cost, and leave some of our poorest communities without resources – do not worry! Your Democrat Majority is working on Wildlife Trafficking. 

While State Water Contractors and the Central Valley Project will endure a 0 percent allocation of their through the growing season, do not worry! Your Democrat Majority is concentrating on Coral Reefs.

Maybe we will see a major announcement after scientific findings conclude that the immediate attention to wildlife trafficking and coral reef studies has found a way to provide water and food to a growing population, but I doubt it.

These are times we really must question political motives and take people for their word.

If they sound radical, and they look radical, they are radical.

Ignoring a crisis while peddling untimely issues is purposeful, not plain ignorance and we must recognize the difference.

Lives and economies are in immediate jeopardy. 

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.