A state overflowing with natural resources and more than 840 miles of direct access to the largest body of water on Earth seems to always be suffering through a dry spell. Even though seven years of drought ended earlier this year, and winter storms have lashed the state, thirsty Central Valley crops, parched lawns in Southern California, unwashed cars, and watering prohibitions that pit neighbor against neighbor feel as if they have become more permanent obstructions than temporary hassles.
Entrepreneurs have even gone into the desert in search of water, found it, and made plans to deliver it to the arid lands of Southern California, only to be blocked by radical environmental interests.
Relief will come sooner from the salty ocean on America’s Left Coast. The Poseidon desalination plant in Huntington Beach is apparently “headed for a key approval,” says the Los Angeles Times.
“A regional water board is proposing to grant Poseidon permits for a $1-billion desalting facility that would annually produce enough drinking water to supply 100,000 Orange County households,” the Times reported the day before Thanksgiving.
However, “the board will not vote on the project until March and Poseidon still needs approval from the California Coastal Commission.”
Still, “the water board’s tentative permit is a major boost for a project that has been mired in delays and controversy since it was first proposed two decades ago.”
Providing water where it’s needed in California reminds one of the old saying about the difficulty of squeezing blood from a turnip. Except the phrase indicates an impossible task, as turnips have no blood. California, though, has water. It’s just held hostage by politics, which is why the state endures water problems whether we’re in a drought or not. Any solution will require taking politics out of the equation as much as is possible.
Consistent with PRI’s recommendations over the years, Hoover Institution senior fellow Lee Ohanian says California needs to establish a “well-functioning water market” if it’s to ever lift itself from its “state of water chaos.”
“Like every other resource, water is scarce and should be allocated so that it is employed in its highest valued use,” Ohanian continues in Hoover post written earlier this year. “A market — not government controls — is the best way to achieve efficient water allocation. And the fact that a competitive market has the potential to make everyone better off, compared to a system of government controls, is poorly understood by policymakers.”
Or is simply rejected since by policymakers, since politicians rarely give up power they have acquired.
Elected officials also have interests to answer to, and in the case of water, those interests want to keep water under the boot of government.
While president, Barack Obama once said that the nation’s energy policy should be an all-of-the-above strategy. California needs to address its water issues the same way. Desalination. Desert water. Ground water. Increased storage. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Clearly defined water rights.
A comprehensive approach will never be adopted, though, as long as policymakers and rule-making bureaucrats are doing what should be left to markets.
Of course, even if it wanted to, California could never make the transition alone. The federal government is an equal partner in the state’s water crisis. But where is the California delegation, which, with 53 House members, has more political clout than any other state? Why is it not actively pressing for changes in federal law that would overhaul the smothering regulatory framework that stands in the way of a reliable water future? With a president in office who would support the agenda, there could be no better time.
As practical as it sounds, it’s unlikely to happen. California’s political class is beholden to an unyielding environmentalist code that it dares not breach.
So, as Ohanian suggests, Californians need to keep praying for rain, lest the state become another dust bowl like the one the Depression-era families of so many of today’s residents came here to escape.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institut