No matter the crisis, the State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB), Governor Brown and the Democratic super-majority-controlled Legislature — despite their best efforts — are no match for nature itself as has been demonstrated during six years of drought and now three and a half months of flooding and massive infrastructure failures.
While species continue to evolve and adapt to survive, it seems our elected and appointed water policy makers and managers do not. Continuously throwing good water after bad for nearly thirty years in flawed programs has resulted in a record of failure: Threatened and endangered species dwindle and die, water quality continues to decline (especially in rural and impoverished communities) and ignored and aging infrastructure crumbles alarmingly.
Take for example the case of the unimpaired flows proposal by the SWRCB: The state would demand releasing water from key reservoirs in both wet and drought years and take 40–70 percent of the water flowing in the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced Rivers. The new flow increases would be on top of nearly 30 percent already required to “aid” endangered Chinook salmon migration.
SWRCB’s sister state agency at Cal-EPA, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), testified in January that the board’s SED proposal was “without evidence, [contained] incomplete scientific information, [was] ill-suited for real-time operations, and [based on] unverified assumptions.”
DWR’s findings were backed up in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management, a biosciences journal that published an internationally recognized and independently peer-reviewed 12-year study finding that the SWRCB’s SED proposal would provide no significant overall increase to fish populations and would actually kill or hobble migrating fish from reaching their spawning grounds or the ocean.
Despite strongly contradicting science and expert opinion, together with thousands of critical comments from other authorities and the public, the SWRCB stands poised to approve its flawed and dangerous plan.
The SWRCB — along with elected officials who put them there — appear to deny true science whenever it fails to fit their narrative, choosing instead [Alt]-science. They hand pick, even finance science of convenience to support their doubling down on restrictions and management schemes that fail, all in an attempt to try to bend nature to their will or force potential partners into submission. In so doing they play political games with our lives, property, health, public safety and our environment.
Governor Jerry Brown is right. There is no going back to the way things were.
Despite Brown’s clear vision statement, he and his appointees stubbornly cling to their dated, obsolete and draconian water policies. To truly move forward, Brown and the SWRCB must stop insisting on using a 1970’s outlook, 1980’s solutions, and 1990’s science, laws and regulatory muscle to address 21st century problems before they condemn those who will live in the 22nd century to living with their mistakes.
It’s past time to let science speak. Seek sound science and real-time data, engage in meaningful cooperation with partners and stakeholders, and incentivize successes proven in the field before rolling out blanket policy edicts.
Our species, our public’s health and safety, our economy and our very way of life in California depends on it.
Aubrey Bettencourt is the executive director of the California Water Alliance, a statewide water policy non-profit that advocates for the water needs of California families, cities, businesses, farmers and the environment. Follow @AubBettencourt and visit CaliforniaWaterAlliance.org for more information.