In recent decades, environmentalists in California have successfully prevented major water projects. Their goal has been keeping the environment as pristine as possible. Since completion of New Melones Lake 36 years ago, the state has not constructed any large reservoirs to store water for household use, irrigation and recreation.
During the past five years, environmentalists have successfully sued to allow millions of acre-feet of water, contracted for irrigation, to flow freely through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and on to the sea. The purpose was to help protect an endangered species of fish. Other litigation has aimed to increase the free flow of water so that salmon once again can swim up the rivers of the Central Valley to spawn.
Now that California is facing a record drought, historian Victor Davis Hanson has directed harsh criticism toward the environmentalists: “Instead of an adult state with millions of acre-feet stored in new reservoirs, California is still an adolescent culture that believes that it has the right to live as if it were the age of the romantic 19th-century naturalist John Muir – amid a teeming 40-million-person 21st-century megalopolis.”
Here Hanson points out the key problem: soaring population growth making huge demands for water. He notes that the population of the state was only one fifth of the present total when the salmon swam upstream. And it was only a little more than half of what it is now when New Melones was completed.
Hanson observes that if rains and snows don’t come soon in “biblical proportions,” the continuing drought could bring “surreal things in California – towns without water, farms reverting to scrub, majestic parks with dead landscaping – fit for Hollywood disaster movies.”
In fairness, Hanson overstates his case against the environmentalists. They deserve credit for trying to preserve the natural world, and they are right to condemn the mentality of development for the sake of development. Nevertheless, he is on target with his charge of adolescent thinking.
Too many environmentalists simply ignore the issue of population. For the sake of political correctness, they seem to think that you can have your pristine environmental cake while massive population growth ravenously eats it up. This sort of thinking is even worse than adolescent; it’s plain childish. One of the worst offenders in this respect is the California-based Sierra Club which refuses to criticize immigration, the source of most of the state’s growth in recent years.
Sooner of later, reality always puts an end to childish behavior. In the case of the drought, it may be sooner when the public will demand new water projects, no matter the environmental costs. Environmental protection is a noble endeavor, but it’s a pursuit which cannot ignore cause and effect: more population means less undisturbed environment.
New Melones Dam.