California sat on voter-approved reservoir plan as massive storm runoff heads to sea amid ongoing drought

In the state of California, water is often a topic of conversation. The Beverly Hills elites need boatloads of it to fill their swimming pools, and the farmers who provide the nation with everything from avocados to Angus beef need it to keep the food coming.

It seems the Golden State always has either way too much of the wet stuff or not nearly enough.

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So, in 2014, amid one of the driest spells in California’s recorded history, residents voted to approve the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act, also known as Proposition One, which authorized “$7.545 billion in general obligation bonds to fund ecosystems and watershed protection and restoration, water supply infrastructure projects, including surface and groundwater storage, and drinking water protection.”

Nearly a decade later, as the state is drowning under a parade of atmospheric rivers and cyclone bombs, voters are watching trillions of gallons of water run out to sea and wondering what happened to all those promised reservoirs.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “none of the major storage projects, which include new and expanded reservoirs, has gotten off the ground.”

“As the state experiences a historic bout of rain and snow this winter, amid another severe water shortage, critics are lamenting the missed opportunity to capture more of the extraordinary runoff that has been swelling rivers, flooding towns and pouring into the sea,” the Chronicle reports.

“The seven dedicated storage projects funded by voter-approved Proposition 1 remain in various stages of planning,” the outlet continues. “Many are big ventures, including the proposed Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley that would be California’s eighth largest reservoir. Such efforts require years of design, permitting and fundraising and are not easy to build. Still, some say progress has been too slow given the dire need for water.”

 

On January 11, the California Republican congressional delegation, led by Rep. David G. Valadao (CA – 22), penned a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom and President Joe Biden, urging them to “prioritize and expedite water storage projects that would help the state be better prepared for future storm events.”

“The past few years of catastrophic man-made drought have crushed California families and farms, and with supply chain disruptions further hamstringing our agricultural producers, we have a moral obligation to provide Californians any relief that is within our control,” the lawmakers wrote. “Government regulations should not and must not deny our constituents critical water from these storms. While we cannot make it rain, we must take advantage of opportunities to store water when it does and maximize what can be moved at all times through the Delta for the duration of these storms.”

“We urge your administrations to direct relevant federal and state agencies to waive all impediments that limit operations of the Delta pumps to ensure none of these storm flows go to waste,” they stated. “Time is of the essence.”

 

According to the Chronicle: “Gov. Gavin Newsom has weighed in, too, pledging to expedite the construction of new storage facilities by providing additional funding and removing ‘permitting barriers,’ not unlike his predecessor Jerry Brown who similarly tried to accelerate the work.”

And even as soaked Californians attempt to navigate through flooded streets, as Politico noted on Monday, “the drought is not yet over.”

“To many, the storms highlight the need for changes to the vast system to capture rain and snow in the wetter northern part of the state and transfer it to the farms of the Central Valley and the cities of Southern California,” Politico reported. “Much of the recent runoff has ended in the sea, even as forecasters warn that the drought is not yet over.”

“The state already has plans to start construction on a new reservoir near Sacramento next year,” the outlet wrote, “and to increase pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin region through the Delta Conveyance project.”

Newsom, it reported, is turning to the Biden administration’s massive spending packages for relief.

“The governor suggested federal funding from the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law could help fund water supply and flood risk reduction projects,” Politico stated. “He also called for a climate bond to fund water and wildfire projects. A 2014 bond approved by voters was meant to help fund new reservoirs and other water projects, though opposition from local conservation groups has delayed construction.”

 

“Megadroughts. Wildfires. Historic floods and atmospheric rivers,” Newsom tweeted on Jan. 10. “This whiplash weather is not an anomaly. California is proof that the climate crisis is real and we have to take it seriously.”

But, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Jan. 11, flooding of this magnitude is nothing new in California, making it even more maddening that nothing has been done to capture the rainfall.

“The Great Flood of 1862, seemingly lost in time, is the answer to the question: What was the most destructive flood in California history?” it stated.

“Entire towns were destroyed, and farmland and plains turned into lakes as far as the eye could see,” the Chronicle continued. “Almost everyone in the state was impacted by the flood, from victims who lost their homes to state employees who, in the chaos and confusion, didn’t get paid for more than a year.”

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Melissa Fine

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