Editorial: The feds can curb a foolish California water giveaway
California’s recent decision to stop a key federal water-supply program for rural communities has been a long time coming. It is a classic example of the political dysfunction and bureaucratic infighting that are endemic in our federal government today.
California’s decision came in 2013 when Gov. Jerry Brown, who has since died, decided he wanted to give each rural community of up to 50 residents in the state a $4,000 federal rebate check if they agreed not to join the Central Valley Project.
But the federal government insisted that the $4,000 check would be given only if the rural communities received more than a 25 percent share of the water that would be taken from the San Joaquin River Basin to California’s major reservoirs and used in the state’s growing agriculture industry. The water would be pumped through massive dams upstream, to irrigate California’s vast and increasingly thirsty agricultural lands.
At the time, when many California experts concluded that the Central Valley Project was more than a pipe dream, the governor’s office argued that California needed the water to meet its water demands and would be hard-pressed to get the money back, thus violating federal law.
A few years later, in 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown, now a Democratic presidential candidate, tried to reverse his decision. The federal government insisted that California pay a higher share of the water taken from under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the state’s major source of water. But Brown’s new attorney general, Kamala Harris, said California was now no longer entitled to the federal money if the state received less than 25 percent of the water.
There were other objections, too. The state has a complex water rights system, and many of the major water users in the state were fighting to control the water. These users are now getting legal help to oppose the federal action. And even if the state could secure all the water to irrigate its farms, it would have to buy the water from the federal government. The state is in no position to pay the