Author: Brandon Middleton
I know I am. It seems you can't go a day without being reminded of the need for water conservation in California. Glendale Water & Power, for example, has emphasized conservation since 2008 and "will continue to step up its water conservation message again this summer." In a recent San Francisco Chronicle op-ed, officials with the California Department of Water Resources and the Association of California Water Agencies wrote that "[n]ow is the time for all Californians to get real about water conservation. We need to take a critical look at our consumption habits and find ways to cut our use, both inside and outside our home."
The conservation message, however, is preaching to the choir. Even surveys conducted by DWR and ACWA demonstrate that Californians get it: Conservation is important. There is a limited supply of water. We shouldn't waste it.
No doubt that friendly conservation reminders can be worthwhile. But water users should also be fully informed of the federal government's role in the state's precarious situation.
While Californians listen to the repeated requests and demands to conserve, our own federal government takes water away from these same consumers and gives it to a two-inch fish, the delta smelt. State water projects have lost approximately 800,000 acre-feet of water this year due to restrictions to protect the delta smelt, salmon, and other fish species. That amount of water could have served over 5 million people for an entire year, an astonishing figure in light of the conservation meme.
Oddly enough, while people are told to conserve, the government felt it could hide behind the Endangered Species Act and not consider the consequences of taking water from humans and giving it to fish. But as a federal judge recently remarked, had federal agencies followed the law in imposing these water restrictions, "this would have at least forced the agencies to fully consider and rationally balance the biological need for certain flow levels against the adverse water supply and resulting human impacts those restrictions effectuate." Sadly, the government felt that considering the human impacts of ESA restrictions was unnecessary.
The point: the next time you're asked to conserve, be sure to do your part to help California's water supply. Just don't expect the federal government to do the same–it's gone fishin'.