Short-term comfort rarely comes without long-term costs. By the end of the summer, we suspect California will be paying the price for its hasty retreat from sound water policies.
Until this summer, when the entire state was gripped by devastating drought, conservation was the motto. But now, after one – just one – relatively wet winter in Northern California that managed to fill north state reservoirs, many federal, state and local officials seem eager to get back to life without restrictions.
Farmers want fields that aren’t parched, and residents want lawns that aren’t brown. And the state’s reservoirs, near average, have proved too tempting to resist.
Unlike last summer, Central Valley farmers are getting some water from Shasta Lake. The National Marine Fisheries Service agreed last week to restore previously promised water deliveries.
The decision, under discussion for months and still subject to change, understandably angered environmentalists. Farmers depend on Shasta, the state’s largest reservoir, to irrigate their fields. But so do Delta smelt and juvenile winter-run Chinook salmon.
Yet even with monitoring, “some temperature-dependent mortality is expected,” according to Barry Thom, a deputy regional administrator for the Fisheries Service.
That’s a serious long-term, environmental cost for species of fish that are already endangered. But long-term thinking is so last year.
Even urban water districts have succumbed to short-term temptations. Following the lead of the State Water Resources Control Board, the districts were asked if they wanted to ditch their conservation mandates this summer. To do so, they’d have to certify that they have enough water to last three years of drought.
Not surprisingly, last week, all 10 districts in the Sacramento region said they have enough water to stop asking customers to conserve it. Even a handful of districts in Southern California, where it didn’t rain nearly as much as in Northern California, said the same.
Thankfully, not everyone has lost sight of the bigger picture. To Sacramento’s credit, the City Council decided to keep mandating that residents limit watering their lawns and trees to two days per week, and otherwise try to conserve.
The council seems to understand what too many regulators refuse to acknowledge: that conserving water is about more than a drought or a wet winter.
It’s about overburdening the state’s outdated water system, which isn’t designed to handle the needs of 39 million people, plus farms and fish. California will have to pay for its short-term thinking. So enjoy the deluge of water while it lasts.