California Water: Mavericks, Sacramento and Diane Feinstein

My housemates left before dawn on Saturday morning for the Mavericks Surf Contest, an annual big-wave surfing competition of the coast of Half Moon Bay, California. The waves can reach 50 feet, and because of the variability of weather and water, contest organizers and surfers alike must wait for the perfect storm to appear on the horizon, sometime between November and March, when they will all have less than 24 hours to rush to Half Moon Bay from around the world and catch the biggest waves of the year. It reminded me of the sentiment expressed in Blue Gold that in truth, we don’t manage water, water manages us- and just how little regard California as a state pays to that sentiment.

Photo Credit: jdegenhardt The variability of the Mavericks Surf Contest is a reminder that, in the end, water manages us.
The variability of the Mavericks Surf Contest is a reminder that, in the end, water manages us.

California already redirects significant amounts of water from the Colorado River and the Owens River to coastal regions; much of Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley and Silicon Valley operate on massive amounts of diverted water. Water issues along the California coast, from San Francisco to San Diego, are prompting research into spending billions of dollars to redirect water from the Sacramento River through a 43 mile long underground tunnel to cities up and down the coast. And while this year has brought more rain and snow than most recent years, the situation on the ground in California farms is going anything but swimmingly.

According to UC-Davis, irrigation cutbacks from state and federal water projects have left 23,000 farm workers and 300,000 acres of cropland standing idle, threatening the productivity of California’s Central Valley, the top-producing farm area in the U.S.

“The unemployment rate is 40 percent in some valley towns and people are standing in bread lines. I believe we need a fair compromise that will respect the Endangered Species Act while recognizing the fact that people in California’s breadbasket face complete economic ruin without help.” — senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Feinstein recently drafted legislation trying to get farmers 40% of their federal water allotments rather than the 10% they got last year. Still, Feinstein’s legislation has a lot of people angry- from fishing groups to defenders of the Endangered Species Act. She wants to divert water out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and send it to the Central Valley.

“She’s basically saying, ‘I’m going to go ahead and give these big water guys … the water and screw the coast,'” — Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations

That’s right- everybody wants a piece of the Sacramento-San Joaquin. Could it be that California is just out of water? Or is now the moment when America’s largest farming state and symbol of the West Coast finally need to deal with the fact that like the Mavericks waves, water itself determines when and where things can happen?

Written by Scott James

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