California drought official blasts Newsom administration

During his time with the State of California Water Resources Control Board, Max Gomberg has seen the state grapple with two devastating droughts and the accelerating impact of climate change.

Now, after 10 years of recommending strategies to make California more water-resistant, the council’s climate and conservation manager is calling for it to be shut down. Why: He no longer believes Governor Gavin Newsom and his administration are willing to pursue the kinds of transformational changes needed in an increasingly arid era.

In a resignation letter posted online this month, Gomberg accused the governor of siding with the defenders of the status quo and also blamed those in his agency for being unable to push back.

Gomberg wrote: “Watching the agency’s ability to deal with the great challenges so nearly evaded by this Administration, I was heartbroken. “The way some of you simply roll over and accept this is also hard to see.”

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Gomberg said he made his criticisms public after being opposed by a “long list” of proposals, including support for payers. low income, ways to improve water conservation, new water authority permit requirements related to climate preparedness, and the addition of climate requirements to enhance management and water regulation.

“We really, as a society at this time with climate change, need bigger, bolder actions. And we don’t get it,” said Gomberg. “Being in an agency to be able to be part of that, taking bigger and bolder actions, and being told those options are not on the table, is unacceptable.”

Newsom’s office denied Gomberg’s criticism.

“This governor is doing more than any other state to adapt to our changing climate,” said spokeswoman Erin Mellon. She said that when Newsom first took office, he made it a priority to change the way California approaches water challenges.

She said.

Gomberg, 43, said he has been unhappy with the Newsom administration since the governor took office and removed Felicia Marcus as chair of the country’s board. Gomberg said her removal signals a “retreat from the board’s use of governing body” after Marcus led the board’s push for cities and water districts. beneficial to divert water from the heavily used San Joaquin tributaries.

“Governor, this administration doesn’t like having independent regulators. They want to control everything,” says Gomberg. “Arriving from above.”

Gomberg said he thinks the board, now led by chairman E. Joaquin Esquivel, has since been “allowed for a much narrower scope of regulatory action” and has been oriented to pursue “the approach of unconventional approach to everything”.

When asked to respond, Esquivel defended its board and employees, saying the agency had taken unprecedented steps to address the drought.

“Every day, the State Water Commission makes tough decisions to protect and manage California’s limited water resources by listening to the views and needs of the state’s diverse stakeholder communities,” said Esquivel. . “Over the past year, the Commission has taken unprecedented, bold real-time regulatory actions in response to the state’s drought emergency, including implementing measures to reduce land use rights and reduce land use rights. the most extensive water use in history; voted to adopt one of the strongest anti-apartheid state resolutions ever passed; and has commenced implementation of the Bay-Delta plan for the lower San Joaquin Bay-Delta. “

Gomberg commended the board’s work in committing to implementing a racial equality plan and taking steps to address long-standing inequality, but he said the water rights system, brought benefits those who diverted water first and made their claim more than a century ago, is “fundamentally unfair and inconsistent with the contemporary challenges posed by climate change. “

“There’s no equitable approach to water management that doesn’t derail that system.” Gomberg, who started as a water policy consultant.

Gomberg said a high point for the administration was the governor’s signing of legislation creating funds to pay for water supply projects in communities with contaminated water sources.

However, he condemned the administration’s approach to pursuing so-called “voluntary arrangements” with major water suppliers to ensure the flow of the degraded ecosystem of the Sacramento River Delta- San Joaquin. He said it was a “huge waste of time” and caused delays.

Gomberg said the state has been too slow and cautious about conservation measures in cities. He said he believes the administration has failed to address the inequalities in the water rights system, leaving intact the excessive two-decade timeframe for fully implementing groundwater regulations. , and has assisted in “maintaining status quo electrical structures”, with local groundwater bodies now dominated by representatives of irrigation districts and agricultural interests.

“The people in charge of those agencies have the least incentive to move quickly,” says Gomberg. “They fully intend to use up the clock and resist any attempt by the state to target and engage their business.”

As climate change brings more extreme dryness in the West, Gomberg said, the authorities have shown “no inclination” to pursue a balance between agricultural water use and the environment’s water needs. schools and rural communities.

On average, agriculture consumes nearly 80% of the water pumped and diverted each year.

“I think California needs an agricultural policy,” Gomberg said. “The policy is in fact that food is cheap, the cheaper the better. Don’t do anything to hinder the ability of people to grow any kind of agricultural product that can grow as much as they want, where they want, with as much water as they want.”

As groundwater levels drop in many farming areas, wells on which people depend on nearby communities are at risk. According to state records, more than 4,500 home wells have dried up in California since 2015, including 699 so far this year, many in the Central Valley.

Gomberg said that California’s overlapping water supply systems – including a longstanding water rights system, water allocation, groundwater regulations, and well permit rules – have allowed for production levels Agriculture regularly outstrips water supplies.

“There are areas where grapes and almonds are grown. It’s not sustainable,” says Gomberg. “Everybody knows it’s unsustainable, just as everyone knows the withdrawals from the shrinking Colorado River system are unsustainable. But it’s almost like it’s a game of chicken right now. Everyone is waiting for someone else to blink.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-28/california-drought-official-blasts-newsom-administration California drought official blasts Newsom administration

Edmund DeMarche

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