Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University
Cross-posted at CityJournal.
California’s water wars aren’t about scarcity. Even with 37 million people and the nation’s most irrigation-intensive agriculture, the state usually has enough water for both people and crops, thanks to the brilliant hydrological engineering of past generations of Californians. But now there is a new element in the century-old water calculus: a demand that the state’s inland waters flow as pristinely as they supposedly did before the age of dams, reservoirs, and canals. Only that way can California’s rivers, descending from their mountain origins, reach the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta year-round. Only that way, environmentalists say, can a three-inch delta fish be saved and salmon runs from the Pacific to the interior restored.
Such green dreams are not new to California politics. But their consequences, in this case, have been particularly dire: rich farmland idled, workers laid off, and massive tax revenues forfeited. Worse still, they coincide with a $25 billion annual state deficit, an overtaxed and fleeing elite populace, unsustainable pension obligations for public employees, a growing population of illegal aliens—and a world food shortage. This insolvent state is in far too much trouble to predicate its agricultural future on fish.