Sacramento Hydrologist Robert Shibatani is calling for an across-the-board moratorium on federal and state environmental laws so California’s Central Valley farm communities can recover from the economic losses imposed during the coronavirus crisis.
Central Valley hydrologist Robert Shibatani didn’t water down his words in a March 31, 2020 letter he wrote to Maven’s Notebook, an online source of California water news, regarding his views about the need to deregulate water and environmental laws after the coronavirus crisis:
“I would advocate peeling back many of the environmental regulatory requirements and attempt to isolate and leave the skeletal prerequisites of water delivery to the citizenry. This is not the time for “touchy feely,” superfluous environmental preservation, conservation, and recovery ideals… I would also support lockdowns or ‘shelvings’ on all endangered species act procedures overseen by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service.”
Shibatani really drove his point home when he wrote:
“I suspect much of the now unemployed population would not be overly happy to hear that Federal/State employees are still conducting creel census’ or species surveys, and cannabis cultivation at taxpayer expense, while they have lost their jobs.”
Farming is exempted from Gov. Newsom’s non-essential business shutdown Executive Order N-33-20. California’s Central Valley has had 288 cases of coronavirus and 9 deaths out of a population of 2,067,373, reflecting 0.01 percent (1/100 of one percent of the population).
In 2018, the Central Valley had 7,546 cases and about 200 deaths from Valley Fever, which mainly hits people who have weakened immune systems. There were over 20,000 cases of Valley Fever in 2011, an illness from airborne fungus in soil. Farmers and businesses cannot be quarantined from dust storms.
Wants Laws and Programs “Shelved”
Among the water laws, procedures and regulatory boards Shibatani wants put aside are:
- Bay-Delta and California Water Plan
- Integrated Regional Water Management Plans
- The State Water Quality Resources Board suspension of wetlands policy, suction dredge mining, cannabis cultivation regulation, Drinking Water Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ELAP), permitting/licensing, clean beaches, operator certification
- Endangered Species Act (EPA) compliance by the National Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and US Army Corps of Engineers 404 permits to put fill material into a river.
- California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements for water and waste-water projects.
Political Ideologies Must Be Set Aside
“Having said that, under these trying times, it is incumbent on regulators, elected leaders, as well the industry to take a hard look at what bare water essentials are absolutely vital. In the California context for example, as one of the most heavily regulated States in the country, we have to ask whether all of the various regulations, policies, programs, and processes are genuinely critical in order to healthily maintain human livelihood during these unprecedented times.”
We have before us a clear and present danger. The decisions we make must be based on current reality, untainted by agency or personal bias and, while unlikely, decisions must also be based without political tinkering from the Capitol. Until we, as a global society, get control of this horrific pandemic, ideologies, whether steeped in conservatism or progressiveness, and all of the fidelity that go along with either, must be pushed aside. This is no time for partisanship.”
Newsom Plays his Trump-Trump, Trump Card
California and the Federal government have been at odds for decades over whether Democrat constituencies of Los Angeles and so-called endangered fish or Republican-backed valley farmers get extra water in a dry year. In February President Trump signed a memorandum giving more federal water to farmers.
Not to be one-upped, California Gov. Newsom has recently issued orders to set limits back, purportedly to protect endangered fish that have resulted in political push, by both environmentalists and state water contractors for big cities.
But fish often serve as a political poster child for diverting water to Los Angeles during dry years.
As senior scientist for the San Francisco Baykeeper, Jon Rosenfield, has stated: “I think the Newsom administration is employing some cold, political triangulation and their position is that, ‘We don’t want to protect our endangered species, we don’t want to protect water quality in the delta or the San Francisco Bay estuary fisheries, we just have to be better than Trump”.
Triangulation is a strategy in which a politician positions their policy between the right and the left by adopting some of their opponent’s solutions so as to weaken the opposition by co-opting voters in their favor.
But the coronavirus decimation of the economy may throw a monkey wrench into Newsom’s triangulation strategy. Last year 90 percent of California was considered drought free. This year has been a drier, and more normal, year so far. If a moratorium on environmental laws is enacted as a result of the coronavirus public health shutdown of the economy, that may also mean that the gains from the California Water Conservation Act of 2009, which called for a 20 percent reduction in urban water use by 2020, which has mostly been met, could be set reversed.