If anyone’s interested, California is experiencing a drought.  It’s not the first one and it won’t be the last.  If you live here, or know anything about California geography you know that for the most part the state is a desert.  There are notable exceptions – the northwest corner of the state is a rainforest, and parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains  and the coast get significant precipitation, but the rest is arid.  Dry.  It’s not a recent development.  It’s been that way since the first people got here.

Proviso: I claim absolute moral authority to opine on this subject due to my status as “technical California native” and my propensity for curmudgeonly armchair political sniping.  

Back to our story.  Whenever we in California experience an extended drought, there is much handwringing and pleas to “conserve” ring throughout the media.  In fact the California Water Resources Board just authorized local Water Utilities to fine “water wasters” up to $500 to *ahem* encourage water conservation.  While I believe “conserve” is a good idea all the time, not just during a drought, I respectfully submit that the idea of conserving our way out of this shortage is a fantasy.  Conservation will not solve California’s chronic water shortage.  In California you can never have enough water. Never.

There are a number of large water storage and delivery infrastructures in California designed to collect and distribute water to the thirsty state.  The last of those infrastructures were completed by 1970, when California’s population stood at just under 20 million.  California’s population today stands at approximately 38 million.  So in the past 40 years the population has nearly doubled, and nothing has been done to improve our water collection, storage and delivery system which was already inadequate for a population of 20 million.  But if you overwater your begonias you’re the problem.  Right.

The largest recipient of water is California’s Ag Industry which is a $43.5 Billion industry (2011) – the largest of any state in the nation.  So not just important to California, but to the national and indeed the global economy.  This is why you should care about this even if you do not live or farm here.  If you like to eat, this is your problem too.

So what do you do if you are in a political leadership role in California government and there is a serious chronic infrastructure shortfall and a globally important industry is in peril?  Why, you put together a huge bureacracy to pour money into a different non-existent problem.  Case in point:  The Bullet Train to Nowhere, which will likely cost at least $100 Billion if not much more.  And the best part is once it’s built, no one will use it and taxpayers will have to subsidize if to the tune of billions per year!  Forever!  Water your crops with that.  But…but…trains!  Like in Europe!  Yeah, the 18th Century called and they want their technology back.

There is a building in downtown Sacramento across 10th street from the west steps of the Capitol.  It is officially “State Office Building No. 1”, the office of the State Treasurer, and on that building there is an inscription:

bring me men to match my mountains


It is a line from the poem “The Coming American” by Sam Walter Foss.  It was obviously written at a time when the nation was young, when strong and ambitious visionaries were needed to shape a growing nation.  Well, the nation may not be young anymore, but we still need ambitious visionaries to tackle our challenges.  There are hard choices that must be made – California’s agriculture industry is too important to the world to let it die on the vine.  And if we are not ready to put up a fence at the State line and prohibit more people from coming here, something I DO NOT think could or should be done, then we need to make the state livable for a population not only of our current size, but of our projected size.  If we build for the present, we have already lost.  Some environmental concerns may have to be rethought or perhaps abandoned altogether, since you cannot put 40 millions or more of people in a place and not have it impact the environment.  Like I said, hard choices.  If our leaders response to a challenge is to tell us “settle for less”, then they are not men or women to match our mountains.  What they are telling us is that they are not up to the challenge and it is time for new leadership.  But we can afford neither the option we have practiced for forty years: Do Nothing, nor the option we are practicing now: Do The Wrong Thing.