When the Going Gets Tough

The tough get whiney. And greedy.

As most everyone knows, the American west, and especially California, is experiencing a pretty bad drought. The worst in 1,200 years.

Yet there are some here who refuse to get the message. Snippets from a few articles.


From Use It or Lose It Across the West, Exercising One’s Right to Waste Water

“When we have it, we’ll use it,” he said. “You’ll open your head gate all the way and take as much as you can — whether you need it or not.” – Farmer Bill Ketterhagen

From Water and the Central Coast’s wine problem

“Historically, there has been no water district to manage allotments. Residents, ranchers and farmers relied on wells drilled on their property. Everyone understood that water resources were finite and required stringent self-management. Those who chose crops that needed irrigation were also part of the community, and they generally managed their use of water in a responsible way…

“Increasingly, large corporations that seem indifferent to the long-term effects of aquifer depletion are buying out not only ranches but smaller, locally owned vineyards. The new mega-wineries have acquired huge tracts of land on which they “water mine,” drilling large wells deep into the aquifer and building reservoirs connected to huge piping systems to store and distribute the water pulled from the ground. The area has never seen water use on this scale, and longtime residents are paying the price. Wells are going dry, and people are having to choose between watering their animals and crops and having water for drinking, cooking and bathing.”

The Rich

From Rich Californians balk at limits: ‘We’re not all equal when it comes to water’

“Yuhas lives in the ultra-wealthy enclave of Rancho Santa Fe, a bucolic Southern California hamlet of ranches, gated communities and country clubs that guzzles five times more water per capita than the statewide average. In April, after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) called for a 25 percent reduction in water use, consumption in Rancho Santa Fe went up by 9 percent….

“It angers me because people aren’t looking at the overall picture,” Butler said. “What are we supposed to do, just have dirt around our house on four acres?….

“Barbre…is fond of referring to his watering hose with Charlton Heston’s famous quote about guns: “They’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands….

“Others are embarrassed by such defiance. Parks of the Sante Fe Irrigation District said she was mortified when the report came out earlier this month showing that Rancho Santa Fe had increased its water use — the only community in the region to do so…. “Everyone seems now to know what our cars look like,” she said. In Fairbanks Ranch, a gated community, “whenever one of our trucks go in, the gardeners all seem to call each other — text-message each other — to let them know that we’ve arrived. So then all of a sudden we see water kind of draining off the property but no sprinklers on.”

There may be a drought, but Orange County is still filling up with new swimming pools

Some have filed lawsuits against water rationing. Apparently they believe that our rain is being hidden somewhere, and that a court win will make it magically reappear.

California's Lake Oroville

California’s Lake Oroville


Some people, like Former Hewlett Packard CEO and GOP presidential hopeful, Carly Fiorina, are trying to score political points by blaming environmentalists for the drought for opposing the building of dams.

Carly Fiorina: Environmentalists To Blame For ‘Man-Made’ Drought In California

Of course, there are problems with these arguments.

“‘For more than 100 years, environmentalists have failed to stop the damming of nearly every significant river in California. And yet all of the hundreds of dams out there have done nothing to produce rain or snow pack over the last four years. That’s because you can’t store what’s not there,’ said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club’s California chapter….

“Thinking that building more reservoirs will get you out of a drought is like assuming that opening more checking accounts when you’ve lost your income will help you pay your bills”.

 The Population Connection

Another problem with blaming environmentalists for the drought is the fact that the severity of the drought in California is directly tied to our burgeoning population. Environmentalists have been warning about the consequences of overshooting the state’s natural “carrying capacity” for years (see also this 1990 letter to the editor). At nearly 40,000,000 people, California has by far the largest population of any of the United States (ten million more than Texas, the runner up). Obviously less people would equal less demand and we could weather the drought a lot better.

Yet the state continues to grow. Every time someone comes out with a local ordinance to try to limit their growth, real estate developers (often from out of state) begin a hew and cry, claiming that these people are hypocrites because they likely moved here from somewhere else and now they want to “slam the door” on others (for the record, I’m a California native, and I avoid politics like the plague). This “play up the hypocrisy angle” is a shrewd tactic that is meant to shame growth control advocates into silence so that the new construction can go through. And it often works. The local officials, not uncommonly of a venal disposition (or so accused) (Google: California, developer, bribery for a sample), take a gamble on the future, throw caution to the wind and plan as if drought were an impossibility in a historically arid state. The problem is so prevalent that there is a whole industry here to defend alleged bribe takers, the bribery defense attorney. See this site and this site for eyeopeners.

Some will argue that, as a large state, California has room for more growth. And it’s true that the state is big (though not nearly as as big as Texas or Alaska acre-wise*). Still, a significant proportion of the state is in protected status. “Well”, these people might argue, “all we have to do, then, is confiscate and develop those areas when the cities are ‘built out’, then we can continue to expand”**. Ok, I suppose we can do that. But the question is, is that something that we really want to do, give up our natural, protected lands just so that we can see how many more people we can cram into the state? Just to make a few developers and their political friends rich?

If, however, you remove the protected lands from the calculation (should you decide to keep them), California now becomes the size of Kansas, (which has a population of 3 million).

The long and short of it is, California needs a reality check. The climate is changing, and we need to be mature enough to change with it.

*Texas has 171 million acres and a population of 27 million. Alaska 149 million acres and a population of less than 1 million. California has under 104 million acres, and, again, a population of close to 40 million.

**Some on the political Right even advocate the auctioning off of national parks to the highest bidder, a proposal that has proven unpopular to elements on both the Left and Right. See here and here (though I have some suspicions that the issue is being deliberately manipulated by the Right to increase the access to activities that are not usually allowed in protected areas – logging, oil drilling, mining, fracking, hunting, off highway “recreation” So called “multi-use activities”. See herehere and here). For a list of Perc’s funders see here under Terry L. Anderson.

Later note: It’s been brought to my attention that, in today’s highly politicized world, I need to clarify that my talk of excessive population in California has nothing at all to do with race, and I sincerely hope no one misunderstands me. That’s not what this is about, at least not for me. This is about sheer numbers, regardless of demographic. I mean, California is ahead of the entire country of Canada in population (38.8 / 35.16 million) for example.

Update: When 40,000,000 is not enough. It’s now becoming virtually impossible, even illegal for people to try to limit growth in their areas thanks to the recently strengthened California Housing Accountability Act. Oh well…


2 thoughts on “When the Going Gets Tough

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