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7/27/2007 Capital Press  Editorial  

The Legislature is failing to address the single most important issue in California today and the issue that will dominate the state for decades to come - water.

Thus far politics, not leadership, has prevented action on a proposal by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for the state to issue bonds in a wide-reaching water plan.

The governor's proposal would provide additional water storage, aid the endangered Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, help conservation efforts and improve the state's delivery system.

Critics, and political opponents, call for improving conservation and efficiency rather than building more storage.

Those critics obviously are ignoring the fact that the governor's proposal also calls for conservation.

Those opposing additional storage and water conveyance in the state are clueless to the reality that telling people to turn off the water when they brush their teeth will not solve California's worsening water crisis. They also don't understand the complexity of water in the state.

The embattled Salton Sea in the desert spanning parts of Riverside and Imperial counties illustrates why mere conservation and conventional wisdom don't always apply to water issues.

The Salton Sea provides critical wildlife habitat for birds and fish.It is shrinking largely because as agricultural irrigation in the region becomes more efficient, it is cutting off the supply of runoff water that feeds the sea and keeps it from getting smaller and saltier. This kills the very wildlife the sea now sustains.

The same thing can, and will, happen elsewhere in California.

As more canals and aquifers are lined and agriculture irrigation gets closer and closer to only using as much water as is needed to grow crops, that will send less water to replenish underground aquifers.

"Right now our water system is extremely vulnerable," Schwarzenegger said.

"For one thing, we haven't built a major state reservoir in more than 30 years and in that time our population has grown from 20 million to 37 million. We must solve California's water problems not only for today, but for 40 years from now."

To put that 17 million additional residents into perspective, that's as many new California residents in the last 30 years as live in the neighboring states of Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Washington and Idaho - combined.

If slaking the thirst of an additional five states' worth of residents on the infrastructure from 30 years ago doesn't adequately demonstrate that substantial conservation and efficiency have already been achieved, then nothing will.

California is growing and will continue to grow, whether people at the Capitol in Sacramento want it, or residents in the big cities or small towns want it.

It is foolish not to take the steps to provide for the needs of the growing population and the state's $32 billion ag economy, which helps feed them and many others around the country and the globe.

The Legislature needs to quit stalling on the water package and approve it and get it before voters.

And before the people vote, legislators need to get out and spread the message that this isn't just about their neighbor who may water part of the street when he waters the lawn, but it's about providing for the state's future.

Water and its use in California is complicated, but it doesn't take a hydrologist to understand that the arid state, which has always struggled with water supply, needs to hold on to more of the precipitation that falls on the vast state.

Drilling more and deeper wells into the state's shrinking groundwater supply isn't a sustainable plan.

Legislators poking their heads into the ground and ignoring the problem won't fix anything either.
 
 
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