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California fails at drought resilience

Todd Fitchette WFP-todd-fitchette-friant-kern-web.jpg
Friant Water Authority Chief Operations Officer Doug DeFlitch describes how subsidence in the region has affected the carrying capacity of the Friant-Kern Canal in Central California.
As lawmakers and others point to climate change, repairing the state's broken water infrastructure is not on the table.

It is painfully apparent that California lawmakers cannot make wise decisions. Their refusal to prioritize drought resilience is appalling. While some talk a good talk and argue that efforts are underway, nothing good happens. It's Lucy, Charlie Brown, and the football every time.

As lawmakers and others point to climate change and the need to do something about it, repairing the state's broken water infrastructure is not on the table. Billions of dollars in state bonds later and the sucking sound of water circling the drain is apparent.

In September, California Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, pulled her Senate Bill 559 from an Assembly floor vote after the bill’s funding was stripped and poison amendments were placed there in committee.

Those amendments, according to a statement from Hurtado's office, would have placed fund administration for the money necessary to repair sinking canals under the Department of Water Resources and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. We saw a similar situation a few years ago when voters approved a water bond that promised new water storage projects. That measure gave the California Water Commission authority to determine what water projects would be funded after voters already approved it. In the end, critical infrastructure proposals that would have bolstered California's water supplies were so woefully underfunded, they may never happen.

"Under these amendments, the departments would have to follow various guidelines and conduct studies in order for funding to be released and allocated," a statement from Hurtado's office reads. "These requirements will further complicate the process and the fund disbursement, slowing construction on the State’s water conveyance canals. Assembly Appropriations amendments also deleted the specific funding allotments planned for in SB 559 as introduced."

A public statement from three water agencies expressed "disappointment" in Hurtado's decision. They indicated interest in working with Sen. Hurtado on the bill next year. Though dead for now, SB 559 may become a two-year bill, meaning it could return next legislative season.

The bill originally sought to fund necessary repairs to the Friant Kern Canal. Hurtado carried similar legislation last year that failed to win approval. Subsidence has caused the canal to sink in places, greatly reducing its carrying capacity. True to form, lawmakers voted once again to make water availability in the populous state as rare as political common sense.

California is out of time, and it's negatively affecting neighboring states. The state's inability to deliver State Water Project supplies to large users like Metropolitan Water District this year forced MWD to make massive withdrawals from the Colorado River System, pulling Lake Mead levels to an all-time low.

California's failed public policies have made a climatic situation worse. While the state cannot make it rain, the infrastructure built by previous generations cannot sustain the state's population. Byzantine regulations that restrict how water is used and delivered will cause ecological and humanitarian catastrophes.

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