You might think environmentalism is a benign set of ideas promulgated by well-meaning idealists whose efforts are occasionally hijacked by extremists. If so, a close look at the politics behind the ongoing California water shortage will cause you to think again.
Since 1970, the population of California has nearly doubled, and the amount of land under cultivation has also grown dramatically. But surface water storage has increased by only about 27%.
The historic drought in California is a natural phenomenon, but the efforts to increase the water supply have been dramatically curtailed by environmentalists. They make such projects ever more difficult and expensive through government regulations and dictates, exacerbating the hardships of the drought. The experience of the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project is typical.
Cadiz is a private company on private land in the eastern Mojave Desert. It sits above a natural aquifer that is replenished by rain that falls in the nearby mountains. Eventually, the water in the aquifer works its way to several dry lakebeds, where it percolates to the surface and evaporates. Humans get no use from this water, even as California suffers drought.
Cadiz has developed a plan to tap into the aquifer and use the water to supplement municipal water supplies in dry years. In wet years, those municipalities would be able to pipe water surpluses to Cadiz to be stored underground in the aquifer for future use.
A key element of the plan is a 43-mile long pipeline connecting Cadiz to the Colorado River Aqueduct, a pipeline that would run within an active railroad right-of-way across Bureau of Land Management land. But the BLM, at the behest of Senator Diane Feinstein of California, will not allow the pipeline. The senator argues that the project would drain the aquifer faster than it can replenish itself, thereby harming the “fragile desert ecosystem.” She also asserts that the use of the railroad right-of-way, which would enable Cadiz to avoid certain environmental reviews, represents “an egregious misuse of federal policy.”
Feinstein’s claim about draining the aquifer echoes the ideology of Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946). Pinochet was an early advocate of “conservation” who argued that private owners of natural resources could never be trusted to use them responsibly. But here, “responsibly” meant for the “public interest” as defined by Pinochet and his sympathizers.
Pinchot is part of the reason there is a BLM today. He was one of the first to advocate that the federal government become a permanent landlord. Before Pinchot and the conservation movement, the federal government's responsibility as landowner was simply to sell their lands as quickly and efficiently as possible to private parties. Once the federal government became a permanent landlord, it became necessary to establish such entities as the BLM. (Pinchot was the first head of the National Forest Service.) Now one-third of the land in the United States is under direct federal control.
For Feinstein and her environmentalist patrons, increases in the water supply are a problem to be avoided. As a spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity said of the Cadiz project, by making more water available to southern California municipalities, it would “increase urban sprawl” along the coast. In other words, they want to “preserve California” by restricting the supply of water available for new growth and development, thus making the state less suitable for human habitation. Their notion of the “public good” is to reduce the “public.”
One can imagine a day when the entire “fragile desert ecosystem” of the Mojave could be turned into a garden with desalinated water from the Pacific. But that will never happen if environmentalists have their way. “Natural landscape,” no matter how desolate, trumps “urban sprawl” every time. We are dealing with a radical ideology that aims to halt further economic growth and development in the United States, putting people last.
Tom McCaffrey is the author of Radical by Nature: The Green Assault on Liberty, Property, and Prosperity (Stairway Press, 2016).
Edward Hudgins, “Earth Day’s Subtle Pollution.” April 21, 2016.
Robert Bidinotto, “Death by Environmentalism.” March 1, 2004.
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