California’s water supply shortage is a microcosm of what’s wrong in U.S. politics. The San Joaquin Valley in Central California is the most productive agricultural area in the world and is the envy of many countries that rely on imported food supplies because their climate or soil is not suitable to sustain farming. But California’s water supply to this region has been critically curtailed by the government’s inability to manage water resources.
That breakdown caused President Obama to visit the Central Valley in 2014 and sit down with farmers to hear about water supply problems. Several members of his administration, including the Secretary of Interior and recently the Secretary of Commerce, have personally visited the area and listened to local business and community leaders talk about their concern for the future of the region. Former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Debt ceiling games endanger US fiscal credibility — again MORE and numerous members of Congress, including Senate Energy Committee Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiDemocrats look for plan B on filibuster Senate will vote on John Lewis voting bill as soon as next week Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — FDA moves to sell hearing aids over-the-counter MORE, have toured the ravaged area and committed to work with their colleagues to assist Central Valley communities. Republican members of Congress, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. David Valadao, as well as their Democratic colleagues, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel Feinstein Ban on new offshore drilling must stay in the Build Back Better Act Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Jane Fonda to push for end to offshore oil drilling in California MORE and Rep. Jim Costa, have introduced legislation to try to fix the problem.
Remarkably, the highest leadership in the country has focused on the water supply problem and a bipartisan group of legislators has been working on legislative solutions. They all claim that the status quo is unacceptable. And what has happened?
This is why so many people are frustrated with politics as usual and are demanding that things change. We have an identified problem -- a water delivery system that has been completely overrun and strangled by a regulatory process run amok. We have a water delivery system that was brilliantly designed and constructed decades ago to withstand five consecutive years of extreme drought, but when the state is blessed with rainfall and snowpack, as we were this year, the system still can’t even provide water to communities. As a result, a key part of the U.S. food supply is in jeopardy and millions of Californians are seeing an important part of their state in decline.
Many people outside of California often ask why this is happening to such a productive area of the country? Unfortunately, there is no acceptable answer. The current policies restricting water deliveries are intended to protect endangered species, but those policies have failed miserably. Despite the massive redistribution of water from people, schools, communities and farms in a misguided attempt to save a fish, the fish populations have actually declined. After three very dry years, California had a wet winter in early 2016 but rather than using the water to re-supply reservoirs and communities, the government sent over 200 billion gallons of water into the ocean. The result? Dead fish, depleted reservoirs, and dying communities. Nobody wins.
This is not a recent problem; the water system has been failing for more than 20 years. Part of the problem is that progress on a solution is being held hostage by federal agencies that are serving narrow interests and creating legal issues that prohibit any progress toward achieving comprehensive solutions. The agencies’ water management policies might be defensible if the policies were working and providing some beneficial result. But farmland continues to die out, jobs have been lost, fish populations are at greater risk, land subsidence and other environmental consequences are continuing, and poverty rates are rising in the impacted communities. The result, agencies hide behind the law and the Administration and Congress have been unable to agree on a solution that will reverse this horrible decline.
To be fair, there are efforts from both sides of the aisle working to solve the problem. S.1894 or S.2533 (Feinstein) and HR 2898 (Valadao) are proposing to modify current policies and rein in federal agencies. These are not radical proposals, but are measured policy changes designed to improve all the outcomes – increased water supply for communities, better water management, and increased funding for environmental programs. This is what government is supposed to do – find solutions that are compatible with a variety of interests.
With the critical period for California water supply system to be replenished arriving in less than six months, Congress has very little time to act on legislation. For farmers and farmworkers, planning and financial decisions about crops and food production and hiring start long before planting season begins in February. There is no more time to waste.
Absolutely nothing is no longer acceptable. Congress needs to pass legislation that solves this decades-long problem. If they do not, absolutely nothing is what they should expect from us in return.
Cannon Michael, a 6th generation farmer in the Los Banos area, is the president of his Bowles Farming Company, his family farming operation. He farms row crops and permanent crops using both organic and conventional techniques. His lives on the family farm with his wife and three sons.
The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.