California Governor Jerry Brown unveiled a $687.4-million drought relief plan in Sacramento on Wednesday that was hailed by Democrats and state water authorities, but which will do little to address the larger issues plaguing water management in the region. The package includes spending for water recycling, groundwater restoration, and emergency food and housing, but does nothing about the larger conflict over water use.
Farmers and Republicans call the water crisis “man-made,” because much of the water to which they previously had access was flushed out to sea in recent years to preserve endangered fish populations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta. Gov. Brown and President Barack Obama have rejected efforts by Republicans in Congress to restore water to the farmers by federal law. The new package offers no solutions to the dilemma.
Instead, Gov. Brown’s package sticks to what is politically feasible with Democrats in complete control of the state government. According to Anthony York of the Los Angeles Times, some of Gov. Brown’s proposals were included in the budget he presented to the state legislature last month, but would not have been enacted until July. By re-introducing them as emergency measures, the governor could see them take effect within weeks.
Much of California’s water comes from the snowpack on the Sierra Nevada mountains, which has been at very low levels this year following two years of very limited precipitation. Just a few years before, the state had ample water and its reservoirs were full. However, California has not invested in new reservoirs, partly due to the insistence of environmentalists that water management should focus on conservation rather than storage.