Perhaps to atone for an article they’d published a few days earlier, which offered a balanced report on our effort to qualify a ballot measure to fund and fast track construction of water supply infrastructure in California, the San Jose Mercury on November 19 published a blistering editorial that condemned the initiative. But the editorial was filled with inaccuracies, ignores reality, and caters to extremist versions of environmentalism.
For starters, the proposed “Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022” is not merely a product of “Central Valley Republicans and Big Ag backers.” It is supported by a bipartisan and growing coalition of Democrats and Republicans, water agencies, cities, counties, business associations, community groups, construction workers, homebuilders and environmentalists that need the state to invest in water supply projects.
The editorial claims that more water for farmers – to grow food, we might add – “comes at the expense of urban users and the state’s fragile environment.” This reflects a zero sum, conflict mentality that is completely out of character with California’s heritage and culture. More water projects mean more water available for wetlands, more water available for the Delta ecosystems, and more opportunities to manage chronic droughts and climate change. And, to state what ought to be obvious, more water projects also mean less imported food, and more affordable food.
What the San Jose Mercury’s editorial reflects is part of a broader malaise. It reflects a commitment to scarcity and rationing as the solution to environmental challenges, instead of searching for policies that can deliver abundance without significantly harming the environment. Which of these approaches is more consistent with the creativity and innovation that has made the Silicon Valley one of the wealthiest places on earth?
Why isn’t the San Jose Mercury appalled that the City of San Jose has just imposed punitive restrictions on residential water use on their residential consumers? Where are the entrepreneurs and problem solvers that typify Silicon Valley? Is this the best they can do? Why doesn’t the San Jose Mercury expose the special interests that benefit from scarcity, that can’t wait to sell mandated sensors and software to help “manage” urban consumers down to 45 gallons per day? Why aren’t they thrilled that, as the Legislative Analyst confirmed, this initiative will take pressure off local budgets, freeing up more money to fund police and fire departments?
Have the Mercury editors actually read The Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022? Do they understand that it would fund upgrades to wastewater treatment plants, so water currently imported from Northern rivers could be reused instead of being dumped, with too much nitrogen and excessive salinity, back into the San Francisco and Santa Monica bays? Do they understand how much more water will be left in the rivers once these urban reuse projects are built? Are they aware of the provisions that fund replacement of the toxic pipes in Los Angeles public schools and elsewhere, or upgrade water treatment plants in underserved communities, or fund conservation projects to reduce use by another 1.0-million-acre feet per year? Do they understand that by funding off stream reservoirs to capture surplus water during storms, there’s more water not only for farmers and cities but also to maintain riparian ecosystems?
One of the biggest criticisms of this water initiative is its changes to environmental regulations. But it doesn’t exempt projects from environmental review, it merely puts a reasonable time limit on how long these reviews can take. Instead of taking decades to get projects approved, now it will take years. Maybe it’s time for opinion page editors, journalists, and voters in California to think about just how much time and money has been squandered on bureaucracy and litigation and recognize that without reasonable reforms to these regulations there will never be adequate water infrastructure in California.
During this Thanksgiving holiday and thereafter, the proponents of The Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022 call on newspapers and the voters they influence to consider the values of abundance and hope in their editorials on the topic of water policy. Coping with drought and climate change is a challenge that can be met without condemning urban users to 45 gallons of water per day, nor does it require fallowing millions of acres of productive farmland. Massive investment in new water projects is urgently needed, and this initiative offers a solution that will work for everyone.
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