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The California Aqueduct. (Photo: CA State Water Project)

God Sent the Rain, But We Need an Angel to Build the Infrastructure to Manage It

The conventional wisdom is to frame inadequacy as virtue

By Edward Ring, December 28, 2021 6:30 am

If Californians are to avoid a future where they have to endure permanent water rationing because of inadequate water infrastructure, a few members of the economic elite will have to break with the pack. As it is, in the wealthiest, most innovative place on earth, ordinary citizens are being conditioned to accept algorithmically monitored lives of scarcity, supposedly to save the planet. But in reality, scarcity is a convenient way to consolidate political power and economic resources in the hands of existing elites, who count on the multitudes to assuage their downward mobility with online Soma.

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So who will break with the pack? Who will be an Angel? For a few million dollars, a sum that any one of California’s hundreds of mega millionaires might throw down the way normal people buy a latte, an initiative to fund water infrastructure could be placed on the ballot. This, at least, would give Californians a choice.

The More Water Now campaign was formed earlier this year to qualify the Water Infrastructure Funding Act to appear as a state ballot initiative in November 2022. Virtually every expert in California agrees that more water infrastructure is necessary, that conservation alone cannot guarantee a reasonable and reliable water supply to Californians, much less cope with climate change. Projects to capture storm runoff and recycle urban wastewater are urgently needed, and this initiative would provide the funding to get it done.

Nonetheless, the campaign finds itself offering a solution everyone wants, but nobody wants to pay for.

Private sector construction unions, who could enlist hundreds of thousands of their members to sign petitions, have an understandable reluctance to take on the environmentalist lobby. Construction contractors that design and build infrastructure have deep pockets, but don’t want to see well funded activists target them in retaliation for their support, jeopardizing existing projects. Water agencies all over California desperately need the funds this initiative would unlock, but worry that the proposals for which they currently await approval would be denied by state bureaucrats with a demonstrated hostility to new infrastructure.

Farmers offer the most poignant example of why the More Water Campaign hasn’t attracted more financial support. With no water to irrigate crops, they’re just trying to survive. And for the few with the resources to fight, why? They supported the 2014 water bond that passed but still nothing has been built, the 2018 water bond that was narrowly rejected by voters, and the 2020 “Dams not Trains” initiative that didn’t qualify for the ballot. Now, with an initiative that focuses as much on urban water recycling as on storing runoff, the farmers expect help from other sectors, as they should.

So where are the Angels? Where is the Angel who famously said “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters?” Doesn’t that reflect a more sweeping sentiment, that we need to invest in genuine productive assets, because the real cost of food, water, energy and housing are higher now than they were forty years ago? Whatever happened to the Silicon Valley mantra of “better, faster, cheaper”? Does that value only apply to cyberspace, and not the real world?

There is a strong environmentalist argument in favor of more water infrastructure. If climate change is a genuine threat, then the need to upgrade California’s water infrastructure becomes more urgent, not less. This initiative funds projects to store storm runoff in off-stream reservoirs and underground aquifers. It funds projects to recycle urban wastewater. It leaves the choice of projects to approve up to the Water Commission, which environmentalists can hardly accuse of being hostile to environmentalist priorities.

There is also a compelling economic argument for more water infrastructure, but despite its merit, it has no effective constituency today. Subsidizing water infrastructure is easily a tax neutral proposition, if not positive. By lowering the cost of water, the price of food, utility bills, housing, and all other products and services that depend on affordable water go down. This means the tax revenues spent subsidizing water projects are offset by less government spending on subsidies and rebates to low and middle income households. At the same time, the economic growth enabled by more affordable water creates more profits and more tax revenue.

This simple economic argument, which leans old-school Democrat and decentralizes wealth, used to inform public infrastructure spending without debate. Now it’s rarely even discussed, and when it is, it’s dismissed by libertarian Republicans as wasteful folly and by progressive Democrats as crony capitalism. But back in the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration publicly funded roads, public buildings, rural electrification, and water infrastructure that are still paying economic dividends today. Similarly, back in the 1950s and 1960s, the California State Water Project publicly funded a water system that, despite decades of neglect, enables millions to live in coastal cities.

It is time to upgrade California’s water infrastructure for the 21st century. It is time to upgrade all of California’s infrastructure. But thanks to institutional fear and hidden economic agendas, the conventional wisdom is to frame inadequacy as virtue. Where are the rebels with the means to challenge this destiny? Where are the rebels with the temerity to embrace a future of abundance?

Where are the Angels?

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16 thoughts on “God Sent the Rain, But We Need an Angel to Build the Infrastructure to Manage It

  1. Excellent observations. Edward Ring, I always look forward to reading your articles.
    The economic argument you make should be embraced by the democrat majority, it is not a partisan argument.
    Do we want a shining innovative California as we continue into the 21st century or a dried shriveled once upon golden state?
    I may not cry over spilled milk but I do over spilled water into the Pacific O’!
    Save the farmers, save the wildlife, our water needs to stay on land.

    1. I also appreciate Edward Ring so much. His articles are unique and he always brings something new to the table to examine and mull over. Certainly missed him during the time he was not writing at often as before here at The Globe.

  2. Did some reading and while I’m in the more water camp, we’re still arguing how to spend the money from Prop. 1 that was passed in 2014. Seems as if the surface storage part has stalled so no Sikes Dam and no Temperance Flat. If I read correctly the Temperance Flat project has gone bye -bye.

  3. Why do we need an “Angel”? Where’s the money from the 2014 water bond that passed?? The bond specifically preauthorized $2.7 billion for water storage projects, which haven’t been built. We need an angel with a sword to chase environmental lobbyists away, then that angel needs to fire up a bulldozer!

    1. Good point Michele1L. California needs a court system to prosecute the legislature when it fails to follow public mandates.

  4. I own an environmental consulting corporation I started this week 30 years ago, but we help people avoid trouble (costs, delays, exposures) with toxic and hazardous materials, not all of the silly radical leftist nonsense which prevents construction of the needed lakes and so forth. I almost wish that the word “environmental” did not exist, as too many very different activities are categorized under it. 2022 will be a landslide year from Republicans all across the USA, and that can and should include California. The far, far left 666Democratic Party13 can be defeated if all good people (we are centrists, which is far right of the left edge, but not far right in general) will organize and act together. We also need to take control of at least one major newspaper and one major TV station in California. I know there is enough Republican money to make if happen, if we are organized. For now, we are like Mark Twain’s Democrat’s – unorganized and uncoordinated.

    1. Thank you for your ideas Stephen. You’re right, it will take a centrist coalition to get California back on track. For the Republicans to do that, they’ll have to stop defining themselves merely as “not Democrats” and actually produce an agenda that offers solutions and is more selective about which polarizing issues to rally behind. Here is one agenda that I believe could work:
      https://californiapolicycenter.org/fixing-california-the-complete-series/

      By the way, when you buy that major newspaper and major TV station, let us know. The hostility the press has displayed towards the More Water Now initiative was unwarranted and unfair. They definitely need competition.

      1. How do we get around things like the Temperance Flat project getting the go ahead, and then a couple of years later “they” fold their cards and leave? I realize that a conservative administration would be a great help, but there are tens of thousands of bureaucrats that never leave.

      2. California centrists had better not wait too long. The single event that unified the entire German populace (left, right and center) behind Hitler’s group, was the taking of the Ruhr by the French and Belgians; ostensibly to collect war reparations by confiscating coal and timber. When the people are hopeless, society and the State disintegrate.

  5. But, but, but…. Newsom & Pelosi & Feinstein’s CCP funders need that farmland to feed their populace, and they need that land on the cheap and on the sly….
    What better way to get a farmland fire-sale than by choking off the lifeblood of farming, i.e., WATER???

    Think about it…

  6. The Democrat’s goal is to turn California into a Third World state. One of the hallmarks of the Third World is scarcity, be it water, electricity, infrastructure, jobs, housing, and even safety. Haven’t you noticed every one of these categories has been in decline? The Democrats have no intention of turning away from their “starve the public” goals.

  7. Unbelievable that the Governor has the stones to put ANOTHER Water Bond on the ballot. It’s absolutely clear Prop 1 was squandered despite the fact that it’s “all” accounted for as down payments for FUTURE Water Prjects.

    The money IS there…find it and explain not where but WHO is managing the spreadsheets! If the STATE can LOSE $$31B in EDD fraud clearly there’s money for a SIMPLE water project.

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