Minding the "Watchdog"
Rightwing propaganda is evolving fast these days as the rich consolidate their political power. Heavier doses of propaganda emerge monthly. Aping the global corporations who underwrite it, rightwing propaganda is constantly acquiring new subjects to be merged into the grand conglomerate of its authoritarian view.
Families Protecting the Valley is a group of agribusiness feudal trusts and corporations that have always regarded themselves as above the law and have been used to settling water disputes with suitcases of cash after the bombast and threats had settled. The California public in times past have been spared a clear view of how water decisions are reached and dams and canals have been built.
But today the hereditary princelings of San Joaquin Valley agribusiness are being criticized by groups of people with a wide variety of interests -- from protecting endangered species of flora and fauna to protecting public health. And these critics know the science and the law.
To combat this terrible growing awareness of corporate agriculture's damage to the environment -- air, water, land, species, health and welfare -- the princelings have hired propagandists to toot their horn.
Now, we admit that a propagandist busy tooting his lord's horn is not particularly disposed to dialogue, given-and-take discussion, that sort of thing. He probably thinks "dialogue" is a species of touchy-feely commie conspiracy.
Nevertheless, the Badlands Journal editorial board thought we'd try to imagine a conversation anyway, since Valley water supplies are of great interest to us. So, we have included some commentary toward trying to start a conversation at least in the minds of any possible readers. Our voice is in red, to soothe the savage prejudices of our interlocutors. -- blj
Why California environmentalists hate water
Titling an article with an absurdity tips us off that jerky thinking lies ahead.
By Steven Greenhut / November 18, 2015 /
Environmentalists don’t really care about an endangered bait fish. California’s war over water is about population control
And having largely lost that war, we can see what the victors have brought with their occupation of the state: pollution of air, water, land and sea, which has progressed project-by-project, each of them approved by politicians charmed by a fundamentalist belief that Nature imposes no limits on Capital and the carrying capacity of natural resources in any particular region is nothing but anti-growth propaganda.
Unfortunately,aren't all of us now being compelled to see the consequences of that extreme hubris?
SACRAMENTO — Until the 1970s, when Jerry Brown first became California’s governor, state policy makers were unflinching in their mission to build infrastructure that would meet the demands of a rapidly growing state. Building great public works projects was a source of pride. It was costly, but viewed as a small price to pay to live in this verdant paradise.
Jerry Brown took office when the 1970's were half gone, and when he did, his administration took over control of the California State Water Project. In order to get legislative approval, Jerry's father, former Gov. Pat Brown, had promised up to eight times more water than the SWP could ever. deliver (http://deltavision.ca.gov/BlueRibbonTaskForce/Oct2008/Respnose_from_SWRC...).
In fact, Republican conservative state policy makers, in concert with national policy makers, were not unflinching growth fomenters, but had begun to question the costs of growth seriously enough to pass legislation that acknowledged the ecological and health damage caused by "unflinching" development.
Wasn't California Environmental Quality Act passed and wasn't the California Air Resources Board established in 1967, when Ronald Reagan was governor? The National Environmental Policy and the federal Clean Air acts were passed during the Nixon administration, weren't they?
The California Water Plan, a 1957 state planning document, said, “Today, the future agricultural, urban and industrial growth of California hinges on a highly important decision, which is well within the power of the people to make. We can move forward with a thriving economy by pursuing a vigorous and progressive water development and planning construction program; or we can allow our economy to stagnate, perhaps even retrogress by adopting a complacent attitude….”
California's population of 14.26 million in 1957 and flooding rather than drought was perceived by the state as the greater danger from water.
The water plan was the culmination of a special session of the Legislature called by Gov. Goodwin Knight, and it became the foundation for the State Water Project, a massive system of dams, aqueducts and pumping stations that would move water from the rainy northern part of the state to the desert-like Southland. The report set the state for a statewide initiative battle three years later, which authorized a bond to build the project. The project built on the creation of a state water plan earlier in the century.
The nation had built freeways, bridges and other physical structures essential to a modern post-war economy, the planners explained. But neither federal nor state governments had built the dams, canals and pumps to sustain arid California’s continuing growth.
State planners wanted to rectify the situation. At that time, California had just over 14 million people, but it was clear the population would grow as Americans flocked to a land of beaches, mountains and endless sunshine. The state’s motto could have been, “They’re coming, so we might as well build it.” And build it they did.
Or: Build it but they better come to pay for it.
In just three years, the blueprint was on the way to reality. In the interim, legislators and then-Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown – Jerry’s father – fought a tough statewide initiative battle to gain public approval for the undertaking.
As the California Department of Water Resources explains on its web site, “Approval of a state water project did not come easily. Such an immense project had never been constructed. Its costs and engineering feasibility were questioned. Parties in the state’s north and south regions vehemently opposed the project. Northerners claimed the water was rightfully theirs and did not want their water flowing south….” The state’s leaders threw their weight behind the project.
And the One-Man-One-Vote US Supreme Court decision in 1965 had changed the balance of power to urban from rural counties in the state Senate by depriving many rural counties "of origin" of water in Northern California of their state senators.
“Development of our water resources is crucial to every segment of our state — the ranchers in our mountain areas, the farmers who make California the nation’s leading agricultural producer and the home owners in our population, which will grow to 20 million by 1970,” said Pat Brown, whose administration oversaw the bulk of the project’s construction.
Yet in his doomed 1966 campaign for a third term, the governor, after ogling that year's "Mountain Sweetheart of Plumas County" told an audience of ranchers and loggers that "we're going to send all your water to Southern California." Pat was guilty of frequent gaffs of this nature by that time in the campaign he knew he was losing. But there was more truth than falsehood in the statement. (Oral report by witness.)
The same approach continued after Ronald Reagan became governor in 1967. Construction was completed on the 770-foot-high Oroville dam in the northeastern Sacramento Valley – the tallest earth-filled dam in the country. In 1971, “Reagan starts the first pump at A.D. Edmonston Pumping Plant, as part of a ceremony celebrating the first water deliveries to Southern California,” according to the state department of water resources. Fourteen years later the bulk of the project was built.
The mighty Edmonston Pumping Plant to pump water over the Tehachapis, the largest consumer of energy of any public works project in the state.
Today, that would barely be enough time for the environmental reviews and lawsuits to run their course. The bureaucratic hurdles, the unwillingness to build, began with a change in philosophy, soon after Reagan left the governor’s mansion, in 1975.
By then, the environmental movement was growing. New pumping plants and dams were no longer celebrated because they halted the natural flow of rivers. Population growth became a major concern, with new infrastructure increasingly viewed as its catalyst.
You can find the source of that philosophy in the writings of Jerry Brown’s inspiration, the British economist E.F. Schumacher who became popular in the 1970s for his assertion “small is beautiful.”
But, before we start the ritual rightwing Schumacher bashing, who Jerry Brown used as a badge to gain credibility more than as a guide to policy, let us note that Brown was elected, and not until after a primary that included the most talented and accomplished contenders the Democratic Party of California had ever put in the same dog fight. The main contenders were, in addition to Brown, George Moscone, Joe Alioto, Bob Moretti, Bill Roth, Jerry Waldie, if memory serves. It has been written that people were so confused they voted for a familiar name, Edmund G. Brown, not noticing the "Jr." added to the end of the name, thinking ol' Pat was running for another term. Whatever the reasons, eight years of Reagan and Republicans had been enough for Californians in 1974.
“Nature always … knows where and when to stop,” Schumacher wrote. “Greater even than the mystery of natural growth is the mystery of the natural cessation of growth. There is measure in all natural things – in their size, speed, or violence. As a result, the system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing.”
And nature did stop – with help from Jerry Brown. “If we don’t build it, they won’t come” seemed to become the state’s new motto.
While it really wasn't a state motto, wasn't it policy for several cities in the state, Petaluma being the first? Was Jerry Brown really the leader or even a helper, or was he merely a competent politician with a good sense of how the wind was blowing?
Despite the fact that perhaps enough people mistaking him for his father made up his margin of victory in the primary election, didn't he run against his father thereafter?
In his first two terms, Brown halted a variety of infrastructure projects, believing that stopping new roads and pipelines would somehow slow the influx of new Californians. But people kept coming.
Oh, come on. Who can forget the marvelous director of the Department of Transportation, Adriana "Our Lady of the Diamond Lane" Gianturco, and the mad paroxysms of foaming rage she induced in politicians and chambers of commerce throughout the state who advocated the car-pool land rather than more, wider freeways? And she was hardly alone when, in the corridors of the Capitol, state Sen. James Mills, D-San Diego, would serenade his colleague, Sen. Randolph Collier, Cement King-Yreka, with the line from Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi:" "paved over paradise and put up a parking lot."
“Not building dams and reservoirs did not mean fewer people would have water or food and thus would not keep coming to California, but only that there would be ever more competition – whether manifested in tapping further the falling aquifer or rationing residential usage – for shrinking supplies,” wrote Hoover Institution fellow Victor Davis Hanson, a native of California’s Central Valley, in a Newsweek article earlier this year.
It is always terrifying to confront the redoubtable Chief Rhetorician of the San Joaquin Valley, Dr. Hanson, but we ask readers if they can make any more sense out of this quote, if accurate, than we can. What does it mean. It's got as many negatives in it as a stature from the state Water Code. Doesn't the lion's share of Southern California urban water supply come from the Colorado River, the Owens River and the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta -- all surface supplies?
For the last 40 years, the state has struggled with this tension – between the need to build facilities that accommodate a population now pushing 39 million, and the desire to put the brakes on growth in this unquestionably beautiful state. The state has long had a strong environmental tilt (think naturalist John Muir), and in recent years that emphasis has been winning the political battles. (It. by eds)
This is a most curious slamming together of notions designed, one thinks, to obfuscate rather than to explain any California-government process. Yes, there have been political battles around environmental issues because the residents of the state are aware that the sky is no longer quite blue enough, the water is not clean enough, and beaches are dirty and the highways are clogged near the cities. But complaining about an emphasis on winning political battles sounds like the stern warbling of corporate flack who hasn't yet realized that public works projects, particularly highway projects and water projects, although some would say that public university building schemes fall in the same category, are what the disappearing group of actual journalists in the state -- now as ever -- call PORK BARREL PROJECTS. Don't the bonds that generate the funds also generate fees to the banks and financial firms that handle the actual buying and selling of them? Doesn't construction of these projects fall to large engineering and construction companies?
And isn't it true that Crisis -- whether drought or flood -- inevitably causes government to relax or temporarily remove environmental regulations? Isn't Crisis exactly the what the finance, insurance and real estate special interests that manage California hoping will happen so that this infrastructure our author is talking about can be built by emergency fiat rather than by an orderly process including CEQA and NEPA and other pertinent state and federal environmental law and regulation? And wouldn't the state and federal agencies charged with enforcing these laws and regulations be happier of they were just suspended?
Jerry Brown is now serving his fourth term as governor. In recent years, he has become an advocate of some large infrastructure-building projects – the $68-billion-plus High Speed Rail System and the $15.5-billion-plus project to build twin tunnels underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. But even those projects bear the imprint of Schumacher’s idealization of nature. Brown’s bullet-train project is meant to lure Californians out of their cars. The tunnels are largely designed to fix the fish habitat in the West Coast’s largest estuary. Neither project is primarily about serving the needs of a growing population.
Schumacher's "idealization of nature"? We wonder if this isn't a rhetorical trope of the author to contrast Schumacher's acknowledgement of the existence of Nature with his own idealization of Capital in all its manifold forms, including air, water, land and all its products and subterranean contents, fire, etc. -- is nothing but Capital.
Is this a fantasy emerging from a true fundamentalist belief that all is capital and nature is just free resources for capitalist profits?
His failure to acquaint himself with the most elementary facts of the Delta situation allows him to describe the twin tunnel project as a construction to "fix the fish habitat" rather than what it really is, another publicly funded water project to edify that great name in the West: Edmund Brown. We await plans to carve the faces of Pat and Jerry on the face of Half Dome.
In any event, regarding "idealization of nature," don't you recall the joke from the biological sciences popular in the 1970's: "Death is Nature's Way of telling you to slow down"?
The governor’s approach to traditional infrastructure remains largely the same. Indeed, his latest budget didn’t even include new dollars to upgrade the state’s infrastructure – something he left to a special “transportation” session that ultimately failed to provide much action.
Has the author seen map of current CalTrans construction sites from Calexico to Crescent City? It's available at: http://dot.ca.gov/hq/construc/consMap/conskml.php. The site indicators are too thick to count.
See http://www.water.ca.gov/engineering/ for information on state Department of Water Resources projects from the Delta to the Salton Sea.
Many critics of the rail project argue that such a large investment – the largest state infrastructure project in the nation’s history – would be better made in finishing the water project that Brown’s father helped start. That’s something the Brown administration adamantly opposes. (Some rail opponents are circulating a statewide initiative for the November 2016 ballot that would redirect a portion of the rail money, $8 billion, toward water storage.)
Of course, any new water storage projects would take years to complete – and wouldn’t do much to deal with the ongoing drought. So Californians now have to deal with the results of previous policy approaches. And for years there hasn’t been much serious effort to help the state handle the kind of drought it now faces.
For instance, a great deal of water spending in recent years isn’t really about water infrastructure. In a series of newspaper advertisements last year, Stockton-area farmer and food processor Dino Cortopassi complained about “bait-and-switch borrowing,” in which bond supporters tout initiatives that appear “to support highly popular causes which most Californians care deeply about” but which in fact within the fine print “actually authorize most of the billions in bond funds to be spent on dozens of other unrelated projects/agencies.”
Transportation bonds end up spending the bulk of the dollars on bike trails and environmental improvements, for instance. Cortopassi points to a 2006 water bond (Proposition 84), which raised $5.4 billion to help water agencies meet storage and other needs: “Instead, hidden fine print within the initiative authorized $3 billion in unrelated ‘internal/external’ pork spending.”
In other words, legislators and other state leaders were just looking for ways to bolster pet projects. They haven’t been serious about bolstering the state’s water infrastructure.
That’s true even after the drought had become a problem. In a 2014 water bond, “only a third of the money will go to construction of reservoirs canceled in the 1970s and 1980s” and the bulk of the money “will fund huge new state bureaucracies to regulate access to groundwater and mandate recycling,” explained Davis Hanson.
Such pork barreling may be more about “politics as usual” than anything ideological. But in June, Gov. Brown spoke before the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. As the Daily Caller reported, he not only expressed concern that global warming was a cause of the drought, but asked, “At some point, how many people can we accommodate?”
Many environmentalists still believe infrastructure growth causes population growth.The Washington Post’s Justin Wm. Moyer recently argued that Pat Brown’s infrastructure projects “created a nightmare. The population of California in 1959 was about 15 million. Today, about 39 million people live there, and they’re all thirsty. Meanwhile, some of them have thirsty crops. Really thirsty ones: Agriculture uses 80 percent of the state’s water.”
He then quotes “Cadillac Desert” author Marc Reisner: “When you added a couple of lanes to a freeway or built a new bridge, cars came out of nowhere to fill them. It was the same with water: the more you developed, the more growth occurred, and the faster demand grew. California was now hitched to a runaway locomotive.”
There’s so much wrong in all this that it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with the claim that agriculture uses 80 percent of California’s water, a figure that excludes so-called environmental uses of water – that is, water released into the wilds to sustain a regulator’s sense of what constitutes wildlife.
We think one of the more reasonable accountings of California water is Prof. Jeffrey Mount's:
"He argues the state’s accounting system is misleading and should leave out wild and scenic rivers, since it’s impractical to get water out of them for any kind of human use.
"He says the right water pie includes net usage of water from California’s interconnected river and aqueduct delivery systems. By his accounting, agriculture gets 62 percent, urban water users 16 percent, and environmental purposes 22 percent."--"Drought: 10 things to know about California water use," KPCC, April 15, 2015.
But Moyer’s main point is revealing: “Faced with historic drought, Brown’s son Jerry must now find a way to slow that locomotive down. He’s ordered cities and towns to cut water use by 25 percent, but some wondered whether his plan was a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.”
It’s the same old philosophy from the 1970s: if we slow infrastructure creation, we’ll limit population growth – and population control is the real goal of the environmental movement. Supporting that effort, the media have been flush with stories about this struggle between limited water and growth. A New York Times feature from April captures the gist of them: “California drought tests history of endless growth.”
Ironically, mass resistance to growth isn’t just a fixation of the Left. Even in the 1970s, the California tax revolt – driven by conservatives tired of endless government spending – helped temper the infrastructure-spending binge. When I wrote about politics in Orange County, the nation’s most Republican large county at the time, I often heard anger about growth from affluent conservative suburbanites tired of congestion and immigration.
A conservative activist group last summer ran radio advertisements blaming the drought on immigration.
In 2001, Gov. Gray Davis signed a controversial bill by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, which forces developers to identify water supplies far into the future before being granted building permits. Proponents called it “a rational way to regulate growth,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Opponents knew that it would significantly slow the construction of new subdivisions. It’s a key example of water politics being used as population control.
This really marvelous rhetoric, isn't it. We have to applaud the use of inflammatory terms. They twist your guts. It's an expert shell game. "Population control" carries a sinister tone, implying everything from abortion to forced sterilization to the Chinese "one-child family." It has the odor of Hitlerian or biotechnology eugenics. Oh, those environmentalists. And, psssst, Sen. Kuehl is "openly gay." OMG! And the co-author of SB 221 was former state Sen. Jim Costa, now a congressman -- Well!
Our author is just bashing and bashing and bashing away.
In fact, SB 221 was written by East Bay Municipal Utilities District in response to a developer who built despite the district's warning that it did not have the water for the project. OMG! Gummint again. Bureaucrats! But the intent behind the legislation was the exact opposite of what our esteemed propagandist for agribusiness says it is. It was to avoid the sort of situation like what happened in El Dorado County around 2002 when a new development ran out of water and had to buy it for an exorbitant price from neighboring Placer County Water Agency to tide it over in a dry fall.
Despite the obvious and well-documented shift from the philosophy of Pat Brown to the philosophy of Jerry Brown -- and where does the twin-tunnel project fit into this smelly fantasy? -- the environmental movement continues to claim that water policy is tilted too far in the direction of agricultural interests. They want to “rethink” California’s system of water rights, which is a fancy way of saying they want to divert water from farmers to environmental uses. Their target isn’t the population – but the farmers working to feed it.
There has always been a fight between different interests and jockeying over the right amount of water to handle legitimate environmental concerns. But left or right, the state’s leadership was once devoted to building and maintaining a water infrastructure that would meet the needs of a growing population. That consensus is long gone. And that explains why Californians cannot simply follow the straightforward advice of those who want to help them deal with the ongoing drought.
Actually, the water infrastructure was built at least as much for the growing export-led agribusiness plutocracy as it was for urban growth, which is perfectly clear when one sees that 80 percent of the developed water is used by increasingly larger and fewer agricultural corporations, including a growing number of financial, transnational and foreign corporations focused on exporting crops grown with California water.
New York author Seth Siegel recently published a book about arid Israel’s solution to its endemic water crisis and authored a commentary in the Daily Beast offering“Israel’s drought lessons for California.” He offers sensible fixes used by a desert nation with little choice but to manage its scarce water resources wisely – especially as it seeks to lure more Jews to Israel. Siegel offers a technological path, but he can’t do much about our policy makers’ absence of will.
The Zionist propagandist probably doesn't mention the main way Israel has managed its scarce water resources -- by stealing water from Palestinians. The last glimmer of wisdom on water in Israel was in Aaron Aaronsohn's maps of water in World War 1 Palestine. And he died under mysterious circumstances.
The first two parts of this Watchdog series detail the latest manifestations of the problem. Current state policies include emptying reservoirs to protect a dozen or so fish, demolishing dams to restore an area’s ecology, and slowing a desalination plant over concerns about plankton. Bottom line: Environmental politics dominate the state’s water decisions, and one need not look far to find reticence about welcoming more people.
Until that focus changes, Californians will be left to the mercy of Mother Nature.
That might be preferable to the tender mercies of Yahweh. -- blj
Steven Greenhut is a contributor to Watchdog and the California columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Write to him at email@example.com.