More Talk, Less Action as Dry, Hot Summer Approaches

More Talk, Less Action as Dry, Hot Summer Approaches

On Tuesday, Gov. Newsom travelled to Butte County where, according to a press release from his office, he discussed “impacts of the climate driven drought, including on hydropower production by state facilities, and the state’s response.”

It’s part of the Governor’s campaign to promote his so-called “Save Our Water” campaign, including a $5.2 billion, three-year campaign to “support the immediate drought response” and “build water resilience statewide.”

In his visit to Lake Oroville’s Hyatt Powerplant, local television reports said Newsom announced he will ask for an additional $750 million to address the growing drought problem. He said, “the state is more prepared for this summer than it has ever been (and is) already working to increase outreach for water conservation.”

While the Sierra Nevada region is experiencing a good snow storm this week, the latest figures show that over 95 percent of the state ranked in the top three tiers of drought severity as of April 12.

Given his latest pronouncements, it’s clear that Newsom’s is embracing what Steven Greenhut wrote about in PRI’s book Winning the Water Wars: “a state water policy . . . which uses water availability as a means to limit growth and force changes to the way we live.”

The choice, Greenhut writes, comes down to a simple question.

Does the state want to build the infrastructure and embrace the other innovations and policies needed to provide us all with plenty of affordable water?  Or does it prefer a world of scarcity and skyrocketing prices, where government planners issue rationing edicts and farmers must let vast acreage go fallow?

Newsom has clearly thrown his lot in with the latter approach.

Despite voters approving $2.7 billion for new above-ground water storage projects in 2014, the state still has not approved funding for two above-ground, essentially shovel-ready water infrastructure projects including the Sites Reservoir in the area he visited.

Assemblyman James Gallagher said in response to Newsom’s event that, “if creating a reliable water supply was a priority for the Governor, he would direct his team to cut the read tape and break ground on Sites.”  Surprisingly, federal funding for Sites may soon be on the way, as the federal government recently “signaled its intent to loan the project nearly $2.2 billion – about half of the cost to design, plan and build it.”

Not only is Newsom worried about drought, his discussion of hydropower production shows he’s also worries about the state facing power blackouts later this summer when temperatures soar.  Lack of water means less hydropower produced to fuel cranked up air conditioners on the hottest summer days.

The North State area where Newsom visited is near the epicenter of the devastating Paradise fire. All of California faces another season of potentially destructive wildfires and “public safety power shutoffs” thanks to dry conditions and rising temperatures.

It’s clear Newsom failed to watch the “California Burning” panel discussion at PRI’s recent “California Ideas in Action” conference in Sacramento.  Had he done so, he would have learned that misguided government policies have turned the confluence of drought, power blackouts, and wildfire into an annual nightmare – starting with Newsom’s doubling down on the state’s costly and unrealistic climate change policies in the depth of massive wildfires.

As PRI board member Dan Kolkey has written, “California’s goals of deriving 33 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and 50 percent by 2030, requires a significant diversion of resources that could otherwise go to protecting the public’s health and safety by reinforcing the aging transmission lines, towers, and substations” that triggered the Paradise fire.

He also notes that “the Emergency Services Act allows to governor the mitigate the effects of ‘natural’ or ‘manmade’ causes of emergencies which result in ‘conditions of disaster or in extreme peril to life, property, and the resources of the state.’”  He could use these powers to suspend mandates forcing power companies to divert critical dollars away from strengthening transmission lines, and also to trim back trees that endanger transmission lines.

Strong, executive action is what Californians are looking to from Newsom as we enter another dry, hot summer.  Tuesday’s press conference shows we’re going to get a lot more talk this summer, and unfortunately a lot less action.

Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.

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