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"Can't Make It Rain"

The BDCP (twin tunnels) is falling apart, high-speed rail is falling apart, the water bond is falling apart, and the governor has inter-party difficulties on all of them.

Jan 13, 2014

When the governor was asked about why he wasn't declaring a drought emergency he flippantly said, "Governor's can't make it rain." Well now, if he could make it rain we wouldn't need drought declarations, would we? Since the governor won't give us a serious answer to the question, we are left to turn inward, to our own inquiring minds. We are left to fill the void he leaves by his non-answer. We are left to speculate. Maybe if our speculation is a little bit off-kilter the governor will see fit to corrrect us, but in the meantime it's all we have.

Could it be...that if the governor declares a drought emergency he would be pressured into helping Central Valley farmers and this would anger his environmental constituents?

Explanation: Let's talk about the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), commonly known as the twin tunnels. The governor's got more than a little political problem with Northern California lawmakers, both in the state legislature and in Washington, DC. There are a lot of political opponents (in his own party) to his plan, people who think the tunnels are a giant corporate agribusiness water grab. That's how they like to describe farmers, as 'giant corporate agribusiness' because if you call them farmers it reminds people of the Paul Harvey ad in last year's super bowl. People love farmers, but think much less of giant corporate agribusiness. Nevertheless, if the governor declared a drought emergency he would be asked to loosen the pumping rules in the Delta, or would be asked to put pressure on those who could loosen the rules. This plays right into the argument of twin tunnel opponents who fear the giant tunnels will be used to take all the Northern California water and send it south. The North fears that once the tunnels are built the political power of the South will be too strong to stop them from getting what they want.

Could it be...that the governor is buying time, hoping for rain, hoping he won't have to make the declaration? Because if scenario #1 plays out is it possible he could get primary election opposition from the environmental left in his re-election bid? It seems far-fetched that the governor would seriously fear any primary opposition, but what else could explain his reluctance to act? Until we get a better explanation we are left to guess as to his motives.

Could it be...that a drought declaration would put a spotlight on the fiasco that pretends to be a water bond debate in Sacramento? The water bond has been postponed twice. It is now being crafted without any meaningful storage. It has been whittled down to practically nothing and might not even make the ballot again this year. Maybe he doesn't want it on the ballot at the same time he's running. The governor's support of high-speed rail has left voters with no appetite for more spending. By the way, environmentalists are schizophrenc when it comes to high-speed rail because long term benefits fall in line with their thinking, but short term environmental problems like air quality do not. And, high-speed rail remains highly unpopular with Californians. So, voters have no appetite for high-speed rail and because of high-speed rail they have no appetite for the water bond. When asked about the water bond, Brown Said, "
The world is changing with these serious drought conditions, but I think I’ll withhold judgment on that.” So, a drought declaration could drag the governor into the periloous debate about the water bond and storage, not a debate he appears willing to take on right now.

The BDCP (twin tunnels) is falling apart, high-speed rail is falling apart, the water bond is falling apart, and the governor has inter-party difficulties on all of them. Remember, the governor's problems are no longer with Republicans. It's a in-family squabble. Is he fearful of another squabble over the drought and who gets what water. Maybe he's just trying to stay out of another war as long as possible.

Could it be...that this is related to the governor's re-election strategy? It doesn't seem possible that a credible challenger from the left could take on Jerry Brown at this date, but it's even less and less probable the later it gets. The primary is in June. The longer the governor can hold onto his image of strength and the great California recovery, the less a chance someone will come after him. But, the drought declaration could be the tipping point for Northern California and environmental opposition. If he helped Valley ag get water from the Delta or from the San Joaquin River, it could be the final straw from the environmental left.

Could it be...because Governor Brown knows there's not a lot he can do and doesn't want to look impotent? Could be. Many of the problems we have in California are because of federal laws and regulations like the Endangered Species Act/Delta Smelt and San Joaquin River Restoration (supported and passed by Senator Feinstein and Congressman Costa). Some of us feel that a drought emergency declaration along with a little bully pulpit rhetoric could put some heat on the feds to loosen policy regarding the water associated with these areas. But, again, this puts him at odds with elements of his own party.

There can be no doubt about the seriousness of the drought. So, there has to be a reason for the reluctance to declare a drought emergency. If he hasn't been reading the latest news, here are headlines from just the past few days:

Bakersfield: City mulls asking governor for drought emergency

After dry spell, get ready for water restrictions

Commentary: This drought may be worst yet for San Joaquin Valley

Sacramento Officials Push for Mandatory Water Reductions by Residents

Editorial: Yes, It's a Drought and It's Serious

Dry weather in 2013 shocks even meteorologists

Growers, Water Districts Call on Governor to Declare Drought Emergency

Drought brings statewide agricultural impact

Praying for California Rain

1977 Might Be the Good Old Days

EDITORIAL: Fend off California’s drought menace

More on the Drought; The Numbers Are Frightening

Drought Impacts Political Decisions

Editorial: Water situation is dire, requires action

Meager Sierra snowpack is way below average

Ranchers running out of feed, water options

Commentary: Drought reveals real threat to ag community

2013 was much more than record-setting drought

California marks 2013 as historically dry year

Drought prompts three state agencies to discuss ag water transfers

Food and Ag Board to Discuss Transfers, Drought Preparedness

Is the West's Dry Spell Really a Megadrought?

California Drought Deepens as Another Year's Rains Stay Away

L.A.'s driest year: Time to shut off the lawn sprinklers for good

Driest year ever in Calif. sparks fire, water fears

Looks like just about everyone but the Governor knows it's a drought. A little leadership would be nice.

Brown says he is monitoring drought but says ‘governors can’t make it rain’

By Jim Miller


Gov. Jerry Brown said Thursday that he is closely monitoring the state’s worsening drought, but suggested that a drought emergency declaration was not imminent.

“Governors can’t make it rain,” Brown told reporters at the state Capitol. A state water task force is working on the issue, he said, and “I’m very aware of the problems of the drought.”

California is in its third consecutive dry year and many reservoirs are at a fraction of their capacities. Last week, a Department of Water Resources snow survey found that the Sierra Nevada snowpack was a fifth of the average for that date. Some water agencies and other local governments, meanwhile, have imposed rules against outdoor watering, while others are considering such measures as well as asking residents to conserve voluntarily.

Folsom Dam, the source of water for about 500,000 Sacramento-area residents, is at just 18 percent of capacity, prompting officials to reduce flows into the American River. Other major reservoirs in the state also are well below capacity, including Lake Shasta (37 percent), Lake Oroville (37 percent) and San Luis Reservoir (29 percent), according to the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

In November, the State Water Project released initial allocation levels for state water contractors of only 5 percent. That is among the lowest initial allocations ever, and equal to the allocations during the 2007-2009 drought, which posed major hardships for the state’s agricultural industry.

Brown, whose first term as governor included a bad drought year in 1977, said the state will take “whatever steps we can, in collaboration with the state’s farmers ... and also the urban people have to do their part.”

Last year was the driest in 119 years of keeping records, and the dry conditions are projected to continue through January; three-quarters of the state’s rain normally falls from November through March. Earlier this week, California Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin told the state Board of Food and Agriculture that his agency might present the governor with a drought declaration.

“But don’t think that a paper from the Governor’s Office is going to affect the rain,” Brown told reporters. “We are doing what we can do in terms of water exchanges and we’ll do other things as we get down the road. That seems to be probably enough, from my point of view.”

Call Jim Miller, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5521. Follow him on Twitter @jimmiller2.

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