Clausewitz famously said war was “politics by other means.” In California, politics is water wars by other means. Although it isn’t always above the surface, below the surface everything in the state involves water one way or another.

That’s because the more populous Southern California needs most of its water to flow down from Northern California. Two-thirds of Californians live in the South, while 75 percent of the water is in the North.

The California State Water Project was built mostly from the 1960s to the 1980s, a period when Southern California was a vast industrial powerhouse, especially the aerospace and defense industries. And two presidents hailed from there, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

But recent years have seen the rise of Northern California because of the vast wealth created by Silicon Valley and San Francisco due to the tech sector, even as state regulations have choked off Southern California “dirty” industries. National politicians include Gavin Newsom, Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris, all from Fog City. Not surprisingly, the state has been unable to resolve such issues as what to do with the Sacramento-Joaquin River Delta and the potential Twin Tunnels project, possibly downsized to One Tunnel, as Newsom proposed in 2019.

Along comes a book that explains the history, present and future of California water: “Winning the Water Wars: California can meet its water needs by promoting abundance rather than managing scarcity.” It’s by Steven Greenhut, Western Regional Director of the R-Street Institute and longtime columnist for the Orange County Register, among many other writing gigs. It’s published by the Pacific Research Institute.

I recommend getting the print over the digital version. The book includes many color pictures and maps and is nicely printed.

As the title indicates, California actually has an abundance of water. As with so much in the state, the problem is policies that limit production, drive up costs and centralize distribution. Most of us notice the centrality of water only when there’s a drought, and the government fines people for watering their lawns.

But as Greenhut notes, “Total urban water (residential, commercial, governmental) uses comprise around 10 percent of the state’s total water supplies, so taking a conservation-heavy approach only creates diminishing returns—and has a de minimis or insignificant effect on water supplies. If the state’s water wars were about numbers—how to store enough water to meet the needs of a specific population—rather than ideology, then California would have met its future needs long ago and water shortages would largely be a non-issue even during droughts.”

What happened during the 2014-16 and 2017-18 droughts was ideologues used the crises to push their own constrictive environmental agenda. Instead of pushing for more water supplies, as well as better storage, they obsessed over severe rationing and giving the state government more power over local water districts and private water supplies.

“They didn’t acknowledge that half of the state’s water flows out unimpeded to the sea, but typically blamed agricultural and urban users (and Mother Nature) for the shortages,” he writes. “They view water storage, which remains one of the most effective means to plan for future drought years, as a blight.”

Currently the state’s population is stagnant due to water being only one of dozens of mismanaged policies. The state will lose one, maybe two congressional districts after the reapportionment from the 2020 U.S. Census. But should the populatoin start growing again, there’s plenty of water for the new mouths, and ample time in which to plan for a better system.

Greenhut ably covers one of my favorite stories of government bureaucratic infighting: the Klamath dam-removal project, “a $434 million project to demolish four hydroelectric dams, built between 1911 and 1962, mainly to restore fish habitats by returning the river to the wild.”

Doesn’t the state need the juice from the dams to power all the electric cars mandated by Newsom’s edict that only electric vehicles may be sold by 2035? How about replacing the old dams with new ones that don’t have similar environmental implications? Never mind! Nothing to see here! Move along in your Tesla!

Weirdly, the state doesn’t include hydro power (and nuclear power) in its calculations of non-carbon energy production. It’s just pure ideology – dams and nukes are not politically correct, but solar panels and windmills that kill birds are.

Greenhut describes the complex of interests involved: “The Klamath dam-removal project has been a long-running and incredibly complex affair, involving two state governments, various county and local governments, several Native American tribes, federal regulators and a private utility company.” As well as PacifiCorp, which owns the dams, and centibillionaire Warren Buffett, who among other things insists max-taxed Californians aren’t taxed enough.

Fortunately, the book includes a lot of hope. Chapter Eight is: Lessons from Israel. As you can read in the Bible, the Middle East doesn’t have a lot of water. It’s even more arid than Southern California. Genesis 26:25: “So he built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord, and he pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants dug a well.” Greenhut summarizes recent wars over water. The Six Days War in 1967 was as much over water as land.

That has put Israel’s engineers at the front of developing desalination. In contrast to no-growth California, Israel has embraced a pro-growth philosophy, including producing enough water to meet future needs. The country has constructed five massive desalination plants on the Mediterranean. Two more are being constructed. “A combination of desalination plants and water-recycling strategies has made such [droughts] largely a non-issue.”

However, one area not to emulate is Israel’s much stronger central government control of water. Of dire necessity, it has allowed the private sector to flourish and innovate. But California, despite its incompetent and heavy-handed government, still allows much greater private ownership of water.

This is the third of a Greenhut trilogy of books stressing the importance private property. The others are: “Plunder: How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation.” And: “Abuse of Power: How the Government Misuses Eminent Domain.”

In that vein, he stresses using price mechanisms and proper water storage, not rationing, as the basis of allocating water.

Greenhut concludes with these policy recommendations: “The main focus is on creating water abundance, rather than on having political fights over a declining water supply. The latter invariably leads to command-and-control systems, whereby the government mandates ever-tightening limits on human uses of water. The result is bad for the environment, bad for agriculture (which feeds us, after all), bad for business development, and bad for most people – especially those at the bottom of the economic ladder.”

Steve gives a 3-minute YouTube summary here.