California Water: Enough for Everyone Except You Fish

The results of the state Department of Water Resources monthly snowpack survey are in. On the surface, the news looks good. The snowpack is 115 percent of normal for the end of January, and nearly double the amount for a year ago, when we had gone through a very dry January. But the state water managers want to make sure we don’t think the glass is half-full:

“Today’s snow survey offers us some cautious optimism as we continue to play catch-up with our statewide water supplies,” said DWR chief deputy director Sue Sims. “We are still looking at the real possibility of a fourth dry year. Even if California is blessed with a healthy snowpack, we must learn to always conserve this finite resource so that we have enough water for homes, farms, and businesses in 2010 and in the future.”

True, true: Our water account has not been replenished to the point where we can start writing blank checks again. Maybe, given our growing population, we’ll never have that sense about water again. Losing that mindset, in fact, would be a good thing. To the degree that Chief Deputy Director Sims reminds us of that, I applaud her.

But it’s notable that she omits the California environment from her list of clients for the state’s precious water supplies. Maybe she’s not aware that the state is now populated by a host of endangered fish species, once-abundant populations that have been driven to the brink of extinction in large part because of the way we have managed water and aquatic ecosystems.

In reality, of course, Sims and everyone else in the state’s water bureaucracy know all about the fish issue–in fact, they can’t help but be preoccupied with it. So declining to mention the environment in a statement like this is really a kind of negative policy statement about who ought to get water and who will have to fight for it.

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