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The Absurd Actions of the SWRCB

Late Wednesday, the State Water Resources Control Board declared emergency water conservation regulations will remain in place for another 9 months.  This declaration comes at a time when 50 of the 58 counties in California are experiencing flooding.  This declaration comes at a time when the spillway at the Oroville Dam has developed a massive hole, likely caused by the incessant rain California has seen this winter.  This declaration comes at a time when 9 of the state’s 12 reservoirs sit well above historical averages, having to dump water for flood protection.  Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

“As glorious as the first half of the season has been, we know that weather can change quickly”, says SWRCB Chair Felicia Marcus.  Meanwhile, saturated California is being targeted by 3 more massive storms.  Additionally, California has the healthiest and wettest snowpack the state’s seen in more than a decade. 

What exactly is the SWRCB protecting here?  Given the current conditions, I find it a little hard to believe they’re legitimately concerned about water scarcity.  The reservoirs are taking in more run-off than they can handle, and dumping water into the system to help adjust.  “It’s pretty hard to argue to the public, the citizens of California, that we are now in an emergency.”  Senator Jim Nielsen stated prior to Wednesday’s meeting.  So why keep the emergency regulations in place?

The Water Board wants everyone to believe this ultra-conservative approach is to protect California’s water supply.  But, that pill is a little hard to swallow, when just 3 months ago the SWRCB declared they want to ramp up the unimpaired flow programDo we need to be conservative, or not? 

The obvious conclusion here is that the Water Board doesn’t want to keep regulations in place in the spirit of conserving water.  As Senator Ted Gaines pointed out in a statement, “We are flush with water, and they know that, but this lays bare their ‘permanent drought’ plan that will let them limit and control water use forever to meet their own environmental agenda.” 

The Water Board’s actions on Wednesday only further justify the bill recently introduced by Assemblyman Adam Gray, which calls for a complete reorganization of California water management.  “Water management at the state level is broken,” says Gray.  “State agencies act as their own prosecution, judge, and jury.”  In the proposed bill, AB 313, Gray calls for a significant reduction of control by the SWRCB.  And, after the board’s actions on Wednesday, it’s easy to see why limiting their control makes sense.

Many of us in agriculture have previously suspected/discussed the actions of the SWRCB as being influenced by political leanings.  Bureaucratic agencies are not supposed to be partisan, or agenda based in their decision making.  On Wednesday, the Water Board showed everyone in the state that they're not even trying to be subtle with their political agenda anymore.

Look at Shasta Reservoir compared to the notoriously wet 1982-83.  The state's largest reservoir is nearly full, with releases being dumped into an already swollen river.  If this winter won't get us out of drought status, nothing will; which only further proves Senator Gains' point, and only further justifies Assemblyman Gray's proposed bill.  

Something needs to change.  Either the power of the SWRCB needs to be diminished, or board members need to be replaced with different people.  Because after Wednesday, I don't see how anyone any reasonable person could consider a state that's faced weeks of flooding, to be mired in a drought.