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The Mindset of Abundance – California Globe

If energy drives modern civilization, then water gives it life. And in California, life has been increasingly hard for at least the past 20 years. There isn't enough water for everyone.

Water scarcity is not being forced upon Californians by climate change. Like so many other fundamental challenges facing Californians—energy shortages, devastating wildfires, and unaffordable housing—the problem is mismanagement. Investments in water and energy infrastructure would increase supplies and reduce the cost of energy and water. Investments in the timber industry would restore the health of California's forests while increasing supplies and reducing the cost of lumber. If all of this were to happen, the result would be lower costs for three of the most important variables that affect the price of building a home.

Nor is California's lack of essential goods due to a lack of funds. Californians today choose to spend taxpayer money on welfare and a bureaucracy that could probably be cut in half without sacrificing services. In another era, California's state government invested many times more money in energy, water, and transportation infrastructure. This, in turn, allowed the private sector to use low-cost means of production to create jobs that easily paid workers enough to support their families in an economy with an affordable cost of living.

Ultimately, imposing scarcity on Californians is a political decision that has created chronic water shortages and shortages of everything else essential to a decent quality of life for working families. Californians need to rediscover the abundance mentality that made this state the most affordable and opportunity-rich place in the world between 1950 and 1970.

Much of the blame can be placed on an environmental movement that has become a self-serving industry. Yet the environmentalist political machine, hidden behind armies of thoroughly indoctrinated activists, provides cover even for business interests whose products and services depend on environmental regulations, for financial special interests that profit from scarcity and asset inflation, and for government bureaucrats who expand their organizations every time a new environmental regulation needs to be enforced.

Today in California, politically acceptable “solutions” to water shortages are either impractical, expensive, or simply impose new restrictions on water use. Often these “solutions” involve all three, such as former Senator Robert Hertzberg's (D-Los Angeles) bill SB 1157, which reduces allowable indoor water use to 42 gallons per person per day by 2030 and requires that every square foot of outdoor space meet “water budget” guidelines. This horribly disruptive new law will cost an estimated $7 billion to implement, plus ongoing enforcement costs. The total expected water savings? About 400,000 acre-feet per year.

This absurdly small reduction in water use, which comes at a high cost and great hassle to consumers, ignores the fact that even in dry years Californians divert over 60 million acre-feet of water, meaning rate and tax payers will spend $7 billion to reduce total water use by less than one percent. SB 1157 also ignores the fact that the state has already done a tremendous job of conserving water. California farmers have doubled their productivity per unit of water over the past 30 years while using the same total amount of water. In the 1990s they used about 30 million acre-feet per year; they are Despite it only 30 million acre-feet. Total water use per year in California's cities has dropped from 9 million acre-feet in the late 1990s to 7.5 million acre-feet today. The last time California's urban water use was only 7.5 million acre-feet was in the 1980s, when only 25 million people lived here.

The consequences of SB 1157 are all negative. By effectively rationing the amount that urban water utilities can deliver to their customers, these companies will be deprived of the incentive to invest in new water supply projects. And since the bills that water utilities send to customers are largely used for fixed costs and to pay off bonds that financed existing infrastructure, the cost per unit of water used will have to rise to make up the difference as consumption is reduced. Customers will use less water, but they will not realize any savings. However, they will have to buy expensive new equipment that does not work very well and does not last very long. Enforcement will be costly and burdensome. And since residential areas are turned into hideous “xeriscapes,” heat island effects will further reduce urban quality of life.

An abundance mentality is the cultural solution that must precede any meaningful overhaul of California's water policy. Abundant water is doable and sustainable. There are many solutions that respect the environment and prepare for any climate change that may actually occur. Urban runoff water collection. Wastewater recycling. Surface and groundwater storage. Fish-friendly delta diversions. Desalination. Within these categories, there are countless project opportunities that have the potential to expand California's water supply by millions of acre-feet per year.

The special interest consensus that supports rationing can only be broken when California voters realize that water allocation does not have to be a zero-sum game. It is not farmers versus cities. It is not even farmers and cities versus legitimate environmental needs. The problem is that Californians, for a variety of noble and cowardly reasons, are convinced that sacrifice and scarcity are the only responsible answers to environmental problems. This is absolutely false.

It's time for Californians to realize that an abundance mentality doesn't have to come at the expense of a commitment to environmental protection, and that they deserve to live in a state where water — like energy and housing — is plentiful and affordable. Only then will Californians be able to successfully demand the sweeping legislative, regulatory, legal and fiscal reforms needed to rebuild their state and restore their dreams.

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Anna Harden

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