Ideologies Without Consequences
Victor Davis Hanson
April 3, 2014
If only people had to live in the world that they dreamed of for others.
Endangered species everywhere are supposed to be at risk -- except birds of prey shredded by wind turbine farms, or reptilian habitats harmed by massive solar farms. High-speed rail is great for utopian visionaries -- except don't dare start it in the Bay Area, when there are yokels aplenty down in Hanford to experiment on. Let's raise power bills to the highest levels in the country with all sorts of green mandates -- given that we live in 70-degree year-round temperatures, while "they" who are stupid enough to dwell in 105-degree Bakersfield deserve the resulting high power bills. We need cheap labor, open borders, multiculturalism, and identity politics, but not too near my kids' Santa Monica or Atherton prep schools. I like my beamer in La Jolla and my Mercedes in Menlo Park, but not the fracking that might provide cheaper gas for Juan and Jose who drive a used 10-year-old Yukon 40 miles to work in Mendota.
Appreciate these contradictions of the liberal elite mind and the current California drought is logical rather than aberrant.
In this third year of California drought, perhaps 500,000 acres of farmland will lie idle for lack of water. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be sunk into lowering wells, as the aquifer dives, when too many straws compete for too little water at the bottom of the glass. There are reasons why a drought threatens existential ruin in the billions of dollars rather than mere hardship. Our forefathers 50 years ago knew well the ancient California equation: a) California's population always grows; b) 80% of the state wishes to live where 20% of the rain falls; c) therefore, to ensure that the normal cycles of drought do not prove fatal to commerce and agriculture, man must transfer water from the north to the south of the state.
Unlike 1976-77, there are no longer just 23 million Californians, but 40 million. But unlike the past, Californians in the 1970s gave up on completing the state California Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project that had supplemented the earlier Colorado River, Big Creek, and Hetch Hetchy water storage and transference efforts.
At some fateful moment in the 1970s, the other California on the coast, drunk with the globalized wealth that poured into Napa Valley, the Silicon Valley, the great coastal university nexuses at Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA and Caltech, the entertainment industry, the defense industry, and the financial industry decided that they had transcended the old warnings of more Californians needing far more water to survive more droughts. When you are rich, you can afford for the first time in your life to favor a newt with spots on his toes over someone else that lacks your money, clout, and sensitivities.
The once envisioned reservoirs on the Klamath were cancelled. The supplemental lakes on the Sacramento and American were as well. There was to be no twin wet-year storage lake south of the San Luis Reservoir. No Temperance Flat was to augment Millerton Lake. Such construction was considered far too 19th century in it unnatural building and damming and canaling.
Of course, it was. But so was the most unnatural project of them all, Hetch Hetchy, the engineering marvel that brought the purest water in America by the force of gravity over 160 miles into the Bay Area, making the dense corridor of San Francisco to Silicon Valley what it is today.
Had we finished the California Water Project and the Central Valley Project, or had population tapered off at 30 million, or had global warming been real and created a Central and Southern California tropics with 40 inches a year of rain, then we would not be courting ruin. But we grew and stopped building water storage at the same time and the climate remained what it always was.
Yet it was worse than that still. Our mountain reservoirs were intended for four grand purposes: to store water for agriculture, to store water for hydroelectric generation, to store water to prevent flooding below, and to store water for recreation in our newfound 40 or so Sierra and Northern California lakes.
Note what our forefathers did not envision. They did not foresee that this contemporary and far wealthier generation would not just abandon their plans, and thus make it dangerous for California to grow as it had, but also would create a fifth and novel use for our manmade and unnatural lakes: to release precious water to enhance green fantasies about returning to a 19th century landscape of salmon jumping in our southern rivers from sea to Sierra, and bait fish and minnows in the delta swimming as they had for eons. How odd that naturalists wanted unnatural reservoirs to improve on nature.
The sin of not investing in "infrastructure" to keep up with population growth was compounded by a greater sin still of misappropriating infrastructure. Those who had stopped the building of more unnatural dams -- a green movement birthed among the opulence of Northern California that sought exemption from the ramifications of its own ideology -- now wanted infrastructure to store the water necessary for its own dreams of replenishing salmon in the rivers.
I say dreams, because the pre-reservoir river landscape of 19th-century California had been characterized both by too much and too little water. Rivers flooded in the spring (Tulare Lake in the southern San Joaquin Valley was for a few months each spring one of the largest fresh-water lakes west of the Great Lakes), only to grow dry by September as the snowmelt was gone and the new storms had not yet arrived. Only the reservoirs that the environmentalists scolded us about could provide the necessary water for a utopian steady year-round river that had never existed.
The result is that there are now zero water deliveries for agriculture from our vanishing reservoir waters. Those who stopped the 15-million-acre feet of additional storage space that might have saved the state now tap the last drops that flow from the dams they opposed in pursuance of theories that remain unproven.
The water disaster is not shared by everyone in quite the same way. In a rare irony, the Hetch Hetchy aqueducts cross the San Joaquin River on their way to the Bay Area. Surely such Bay Area-owned waters might have been diverted to increase the San Joaquin River's flow to the sea? Could not the Apple executives and the UC professors have showered once a week to save the smelt or to let the poor salmon at least make it to the Tuolumne River?
There is a great sickness in California, home of the greatest number of American billionaires and poor people, land of the highest taxes and about the worst schools and roads in the nation. The illness is a new secular religion far more zealous and intolerant than the pre-Reformation zealotry of the Church. Modern elite liberalism is based on the simple creed that one's affluence and education, one's coolness and zip code, should shield him from the consequences of one's bankrupt thoughts that he inflicts on others. We are a state run by dead souls who square the circle of their own privilege, who seek meaning in rather selfish lives, always at someone else's expense.
It is that simple -- that pernicious.
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