AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
Last month, California closed out one of its wettest winters in history. From October through March, more than 77 trillion gallons of water fell on the Golden State – over 150% of the annual average. But despite the record rainfall, bureaucratic incompetence and failed Democrat policies may still leave America’s most populous state at risk of running dry.
The blizzards and rainstorms that peppered California this winter were undoubtedly welcome relief for a state perpetually plagued by water shortages in recent years, even if they did lead to dangerous conditions for many residents. Just 9 percent of the state is now experiencing “severe drought” conditions compared to 33 percent as recently as February. Many of the state’s reservoirs are overflowing.
Yet California Governor Gavin Newsom has still declined to formally declare an end to the drought.
To be sure, California is one of the thirstiest states in the country, owing to its massive agricultural sector and large population, and one exceptionally wet year won’t erase years of dry conditions. In total, California farms account for more than 13% of the country’s agricultural production value each year, and nine of the top ten most productive agricultural counties in the country are located in the state. California’s 13.1 million households also each use an average of 100,000 gallons of water every year.
According to rough estimates from the U.S. Geologic Survey, California needs about 38 billion gallons of water per day, or 1.4 trillion gallons per year. That’s a lot – but it’s only a small fraction of the total precipitation the state receives each year, even drier ones.
So where does all the water go?
Much of it flows through California’s rivers and back into the oceans. Huge amounts are also used by plant and animal life.
But the state government has utterly failed to collect the rest of the water. Although exact data for how much water was collected this past winter is not yet available, the best estimate is that less than one trillion gallons of the total 77 trillion that fell were collected.
The ramifications of this failure will likely be stark and severe. Weather forecasters are already predicting an unusually hot summer across much of the state that will likely cause even more water shortages.
The New York Times notes that Los Angeles once had “one of the most sophisticated urban flood control systems in the world.” California’s groundwater aquifers can hold ten times as much water as every other state’s aquifers combined.
Yet groundwater supplies have declined precipitously over the past two decades. In 2014, Governor Newsom approved billions of dollars for seven new water collection projects, including some to replenish aquifers, but few have been implemented.
The most obvious reason for the state’s water collection failures is an excessively slow and laborious bureaucracy beholden to environmental activists. Water rights in California are so aggressively controlled that residents must have an approved permit from the state water board to store even water from a creek or river on their property. Even if a California river is overflowing due to excessive rainwater, storing it without a permit is illegal.
From application to approval, this process takes, on average, 180 days. In one case noted by the Times, a permit to capture water was finally approved “more than a week after the swollen Cosumnes had crashed through nearby levees and killed at least two people.” By then, the Times reports, “so much water was roaring down the river that it damaged the pumps that were supposed to send it away.”
In total last year, 228 billion gallons of rainwater collected in California were also dumped into the ocean due to bureaucratic “miscalculations” by the California Department of Water Resources. Lawmakers demanded the system be audited and reformed, but nothing came of their investigation.
Environmental activists and the state’s Democrat-dominated legislature have also been a major roadblock to any new dam projects or other initiatives to store more water. A $300 million per year water capture program proposed by Los Angeles County that would appease environmental groups has been criticized by experts as too expensive and likely to deliver far less water than promised.
Meanwhile, the mainstream media and even many in the scientific establishment have continued to embrace the leftist rhetoric claiming that California is the poster child for the “imminent threat” of climate change. Yet all evidence suggests that California lawmakers, not the environment, are to blame for the state running dry.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.