Is Schwarzenegger's Big Drought Over?


For the past two years, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, has constantly promoted the agribusiness claim that California is in a "catastrophic drought." In reality, 2007, 2008 and 2009 were below-normal water years, but nothing like the drought years of 1975-77 or 1989-92.

"California's 'drought' is overblown. The alarmists calling it a historic disaster are trying to pull a fast one," columnist MIchael Fitzgerald wrote in an article in the Stockton Record.

Schwarzenegger has relentlessly pushed a "gloom and doom" drought scenario at press conferences and photo opportunities to campaign for the construction of the peripheral canal and more dams, even though the canal and the proposed Temperance Flat and Sites reservoirs won't create any "new water" in a state where water has already been dramatically over-committed. When the Governor declared droughts in both 2008 and 2009, he proposed as the "solution" to the scarcity of water the building of "improved conveyance and updated infrastructure " -- the peripheral canal around the Delta and more dams.

"This drought is an urgent reminder of the immediate need to upgrade California's water infrastructure," Schwarzenegger stated in June 2008 when he declared a drought emergency. "There is no more time to waste because nothing is more vital to protect our economy, our environment and our quality-of-life. We must work together to ensure that California will have safe, reliable and clean water not only today but 20, 30 and 40 years from now."

Again on February 22, 2009, Schwarzenegger, pushed for the "upgrading" of California's water infrastructure when he declared a drought emergency. "This drought is having a devastating impact on our people, our communities, our economy and our environment -- making today's action absolutely necessary," he claimed. "This is a crisis, just as severe as an earthquake or raging wildfire, and we must treat it with the same urgency by upgrading California's water infrastructure to ensure a clean and reliable water supply for our growing state."

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) first snow survey of the 2009/2010 winter season, conducted on December 30, indicated that snow water content is 85 percent of normal for the date statewide. However, this situation is expected to change with the El Niño storms hitting California this week. In a week, California may go from too little water to too much water, depending on the severity of the storms that hit the state.

There is plenty of storage for flood control now in the state's reservoirs. California's major reservoirs including Shasta, Oroville and Folsom reservoirs remain very low, mainly because the state and federal water projects drained the reservoirs to fill the Kern County Water Bank and southern California reservoirs over the past two years. Lake Oroville, the principal storage reservoir for the State Water Project (SWP), is at 29 percent of capacity and 47 percent of average storage for this time of year.

Now Schwarzenegger, after having pushed the drought fears ad naseum over the past two years to promote the canal and new dams, has switched over to the role of the "action hero" making preparations for possible flooding, particularly in areas hit by wildfires over the past few years.

"In response to a series of powerful winter storms moving through California this week, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today directed his departments and agencies to take action to prepare and respond to the needs of affected Californians," according to a statement form the Governor's Office. "The storms are expected to bring high winds and heavy rain in some areas."

Southern California could see three to six inches of rain for coastal and valley areas and as much as 10 inches in some mountain locations. Northern California could see even more rain, with forecasts of 10 to 20 inches of rain for coastal mountains and eight to 15 inches for inland valley and foothills.

"My Administration continues to monitor the situation statewide and they are prepared to support local response efforts and protect the lives and property of Californians," said Schwarzenegger. "We must work together to prepare for and remain safe throughout these storms. I encourage everyone, especially those living around burn areas that have resulted from recent fires, to monitor the latest weather information and follow instructions given by local authorities."

In preparation for the incoming storms, Schwarzenegger said local agencies have taken actions such as "prepositioning resources" and closing roads ahead of the storms to ensure the safety of residents near the Station Fire burn area in Southern California. State agencies have also prepared for the potential for weather-related emergencies such as flooding, mudslides and road closures.

I'm glad that Schwarzenegger is directing state agencies to prepare for possible flooding this week. However, you can bet that if the next couple of months result in the filling of the state's reservoirs and some regional flooding, Schwarzenegger, just as he used the "drought" to campaign for the legislative path to a peripheral canal and more dams that passed through the legislature in November, will use the threat of catastrophic flooding of Biblical proportions to promote the $11.1 water bond on the November ballot. This is spite of the fact that the proposed reservoirs will create little new storage.

For example, one of the major projects slated for funding is Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River. "Because existing dams already store and divert up to 98% of the San Joaquin River's annual flow, Temperance Flat, if constructed, will store only a minor amount of water 1 year out of 3," said Steve Evans, conservation director of Friends of the River. "Even the Bureau of Reclamation, which historically overestimates dam benefits and underestimates dam costs, agrees that Temperance Flat would provide only a fraction of 1% in benefit for its multi-billion dollar cost (that is for every dollar invested, we'll get back a dollar and a fraction of a penny)."

If this develops into a wet winter, don't be surprised if the corporate agribusiness astroturf groups such as the Latino Water Coalition, created at the suggestion of Schwarzenegger, switch from their false portrayal of the west side of the San Joaquin Valley as a "New Dust Bowl" to one threatened by "catastrophic flooding" of fields and communities if the dams and peripheral canal aren't built and the November water bond isn't passed by the voters.

The real catastrophe that the state faces is the indebting of generations to come if the peripheral canal and more dams are built. While the water bond costs the taxpayers a "mere" $11.1 billion, the peripheral canal would cost an estimated $23 to $53.8 billion to build, according to a draft economic report by Steven Kasower, a respected economist. At a time when California is in grave economic crisis and the budgets for teachers, health care for children, game wardens and other essential services have been slashed, we can't afford to build a canal and new dams to expedite the export of water to corporate agribusiness and southern California water districts.

The other disaster facing California is the collapse of Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations spurred by massive water exports out of the Delta and declining water quality in recent years. DFG recently posted the alarming results of the annual mid-water full trawl net survey on its website.

The endangered Delta smelt declined to a new record low population level in 2009. The smelt, found only in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, is considered by scientists to an indicator species that demonstrates the health of the estuary. The longfin smelt and young-of-the year striped bass both dropped to their second-lowest measures. The threadfin shad, an introduced bait fish species, also declined last fall.

The salmon populations are also in dramatic decline. In 2008, a record low of only 66,000 fall-run salmon returned to the Sacramento, American, Feather and Yuba rivers and their tributaries. The minimum escapement for long term sustainability of these fish is 122,000 and the fall 2009 run could be as low as 60,000 fish, according to Dick Pool, administrator for An estimated 23,000 jobs have been lost because of the salmon collapse alone.

While the agribusiness "Astroturf" groups claim that the battle to restore salmon populations is favoring "fish over people" or "fish over jobs," federal government statistics demonstrate that sustainable fisheries generate billions of dollars and thousands of jobs to the California economy. In 2006 before the salmon collapse, the commercial fishing industry in California generated $9.8 billion in total sales and 179,000 jobs, the highest of any state in the nation. Recreational fishing in the state generated another $1.9 billion sales and 23,000 jobs, the third highest in the nation. (Fisheries Economics of the United States, 2006, is available online.

Why are sustainable fishing jobs and coastal and inland communities that depend on salmon and other fish for their livelihood being sacrificed by Schwarzenegger and his allies in order to provide subsidized water to corporate agribusiness on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley? The answer is because corporate agribusiness giants, such as billionaire Beverly Hills "farmer" Stewart Resnick of Paramount Farms, and southern California water agencies control both Democratic and Republican politicians through their campaign contributions, intensive lobbying campaigns and control of the state's water infrastructure.

If the heavy rains continue, I can imagine the scenario of Sean Hannity of Fox News and Leslie Stahl of CBS' 60 Minutes breathlessly interviewing agribusiness tycoons Stewart and Lynda Resnick, colorfully arrayed in cowboy hats, jeans and flannel work shirrts to look like working "farmers," from boats on a flooded area of the more than 115,000 acres of farm land in Kern County that the Resnicks own. The Resnicks, after whining about the plight of the "poor farmer," would say that massive flooding from big storms threatens the "nation's food supply" and national security unless a peripheral canal and new dams are built and unless and massive federal disaster relief is provided to the "struggling farmers" of the San Joaquin Valley.

The "news" segments, orchestrated by the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, housed in Resnick's headquarters for Paramount Farms in Kern County, and other Astroturf groups would then switch to interviews with Governor Schwarzenegger, comedian Paul Rodriguez, and Congressman Devin Nunes (R-Visalia) blaming the floods in California on the favoring of "fish over people" under the Endangered Species Act - and the failure to build new dams and the peripheral canal.

For more information on water privatization and pirating in California, watch Salmon Water Now!'s new video, "The Water Pirates," (10 minutes), now available on YouTube  or Vimeo.

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