WE NEED A STATEWIDE WATER LEADER
The last statewide water leader in California was Carley Porter, the original Chair of the Assembly Water Committee. I know this because I was his legislative intern in the year after I graduated from Stanford Law School in 1961.
The last dam built in California was the San Luis Dam, some half century ago. The bond act that authorized and funded it was called the Burns-Porter Water Bond Act. Burns was Fresno’s State Senator, and Porter was Carley Porter, a conservative democrat from the Compton-Downey area of Los Angeles County.
At that time the Assembly Water Committee was second in size and budget to the Ways and Means Committee, the largest committee in the Assembly. Mr. Porter had no axe to grind other than to make sure that California was well supplied with water. He was truly the statewide water leader. He had at least a half dozen subcommittees on the following topics: dams and surface water; power including hydro, nuclear, and solar; groundwater; salt water intrusion; & waste water reclamation.
Chairman Porter had no reservation in calling before his committee the heads of state agencies, water districts, and power companies. Lobbyists respected his power and were always in attendance. In those days, the California legislature operated much the same as the Texas legislature still does, in that the general sessions were bi-annual. In the off years, after the budget was completed, the committees held hearings all over the state, compared to now when all hearings are held in Sacramento.
In those days, California also had a citizen legislature, meaning that most of the members had full-time employment outside of the legislature. Bi-annually Senators and Assemblymen were listed by occupation, and most were privately employed. Now the majority are listed as “politician”, thanks to Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh who insisted that we have a “professional” legislature.
When Carley Porter departed from the scene, Mr. Unruh, not liking competition of power, reduced the Assembly Water Committee to one-third its size and had it re-named the Parks, Wildlife, & Water Committee. Today that committee is called the Water, Parks, & Wildlife Committee, but it is still the same small unimportant committee.
In recent years I have asked Assembly representatives who would be a good statewide water leader, and the unanimous reply was Jerry Brown. I disagree. When the San Luis Dam was built, the Burns-Porter Water Bond Act contained provisions for further development, including the Peripheral Canal. Keep in mind that during that period, Mr. Porter’s committee also pushed for the enlargement of Shasta Dam, and that neither has been constructed. Even though the Peripheral Canal was authorized in the water bond act, Jerry Brown in his first term as governor caved in to the extremist environmentalists and put the canal on the ballot for the whole state to vote on it. Instead of bringing the people together, the result was a divisive fight between the municipal users, agriculture, the delta, and the fisheries.
In contrast, in the early days of the fight over logging, a group of representatives of logging, forests, and environmentalists met in Northern California and were able to resolve their differences and reach a mutually acceptable agreement. They were called the Library Group because they met in the local library. We need a like-type leader who can facilitate a statewide discussion of our water problem of storage and distribution. The current efforts to solve the problem are largely to relieve the current symptoms of the problem rather address than the causes.
The interests involved need to be balanced. Currently the needs of bait fish in the delta are considered more important that the people and their food and fiber. California used to be called the Bread Basket of the World because of its food and fiber production, being the 8th among nations in the dollar value of agricultural production. Fresno County alone was 13th among nations.
Besides a balance of adequate distribution of water, there also needs to be construction of additional water storage facilities. Historically, water storage dams have also provided hydro-electric production as well as recreation facilities. The importance of dams is to collect and save water and snow runoff in years of excess, instead of letting it go out to the ocean. An associated problem that would be solved by adequate distribution and storage of water would be to recharge groundwater aquifers and to reduce the reliance on the use of groundwater in years of less than normal rain and snow. The cost of overuse of groundwater is two-fold: (1) the increased cost of running wells, and (2) the overuse of aquifers to the point when they internally collapse and fill in, causing subsidence of the surface soil and the reduction of the capacity of the aquifers to hold water.
What is the answer? The extremist environmentalists say it is to conserve more use of water. The problem with that solution is two-fold: (1) most water users have been conserving for years, and (2) it does not address the basic problem of the need for a balanced distribution and storage of water. The real answer is to find a statewide leader to facilitate a meaningful discussion of the competing interests to reach a mutually agreeable solution. If that cannot be done, then the war will continue and people, food, and fiber will lose, including the economy of California.
So, what public and private leaders will volunteer to take on that role to mediate and finally resolve California’s continued and most desperate unbalanced distribution and storage of water? The quality of our future health and wealth depends on an equitable solution of this problem.