California’s water status quo isn’t working

Sen. Henry Stern, Calabasas Democrat

Re: “Gov. Newsom: California must get past differences on water. Voluntary agreements are the path forward,” Gov. Gavin Newsom, Feb. 4, 2020.

Our water status quo isn’t working. We’ve accepted a false choice that pits our environment against our farmers – and ultimately, it’s a false choice that serves to flood our courts with lawsuits more than it serves our economy, our ecosystems or our agricultural sector.

The true choice isn’t between fish and farmers. It’s between a failed status quo and the pursuit of a just peace.

Here’s the problem: nature can’t wait. Species are at risk of going extinct now. Our habitats need restoration now. Droughts will not delay their arrival on our behalf. And we know that a federal government hellbent on rolling back endangered species protections in the midst of a mass extinction will not save us.

As is so often the case, it is up to California. As the Trump Administration rolls back environmental protections nationwide, California must lead the way on water like we have on climate, by challenging the status quo with new thinking rooted in science.

This is precisely the kind of climate-driven resource conflict that will tear societies apart for decades to come. We are the tip of the spear— and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new framework represents a critical step toward ending these endless water wars.  

Make no mistake about it – turning this framework into formal contracts and agreements is a daunting task. But it is important that those impacted work constructively to find a solution that works for all Californians. 

The hard path is also the necessary one here, to achieve a just and durable water peace accord. The easy alternative and natural momentum will be to retreat to our respective corners and restart the age-old litigation cycle.

The Senate Water Committee will be taking a hard look at this new framework in the coming weeks, soliciting input from stakeholders, more closely examining the best science available, and most of all, encouraging good faith and open-mindedness in this delicate and contentious negotiation. 

If we choose to do nothing, critical fish species will continue their march toward extinction, farmers will permanently fallow productive lands and urban populations will find it more difficult to prepare for periods of drought. So the real work begins now. Let’s do it with the urgency that this challenge demands.

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