California is experiencing its third consecutive drought year. In fact, water is being referred to as the new “cash crop” of the state, and the drought has worsened the economy by costing “as much as $1.4 billion in lost income and about 53,000 lost jobs.” This week, the California legislature will tackle the water issue at the end of its nine-month session.
Many critics fear the legislature will fail, considering their ability to resolve budget crises. An editorial in the Fresno Bee states:
We aren’t persuaded that the California Legislature is capable of solving the state’s water crisis. On big issues, lawmakers have been paralyzed to act…In a state of 38 million people, we have a water system designed for half that many people. Even now, it’s questionable whether this do-nothing Legislature can put aside the special-interest politics that always gets in the way of meeting the state’s water needs.
At the heart of the California’s water issues is the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which provides water to cities and agriculture, but it is experiencing environmental decline. 80% of the water that flows through the delta originates in far northern California and protecting the region’s “first dibs on that water” is a priority of the 4th District Senator Aanestad. Aanestad stated, “What we want is to put in stone this area-of-origin language that makes it impossible for future legislatures to cut back on those water rights for the north state.” Aanestad also wants a water bond to include funding for Klamath Dam removal.
Democrats are pushing for the formation of a Delta Stewardship Council, which would have the “the power to impose new fees and to regulate in-stream flows in the rivers that feed the delta, which is all the waterways between Bakersfield and Mt. Shasta.” The San Francisco Chronicle explains:
Two-thirds of Californians get their water from the delta, a fragile estuary where rare fish populations are crashing and levees are ready to crumble. Yet water users – from the city of Los Angeles to farmers in the Central Valley – complain that environmental protections make the delta system unreliable.
Not only are northern California residents worried about losing their water rights, they want to be justly compensated. After the loss of timber revenues from logging in the National Forests, schools and counties are hurting financially in the mountainous regions. Residents feel their water is being stolen by the south without compensation and causing dire environmental consequences to the fisheries. The issues are complicated, and the California legislature has their work cut out for them in their final week.