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PD Editorial: No drought in California's water wars

One thing isn't wilting in California's drought: water politics.

If anything, the stakes are higher than ever in this third straight dry year. And, on Wednesday, we witnessed contrasting approaches from two practiced political brawlers, Gov. Jerry Brown and House Speaker John Boehner.

In his State of the State address, Brown paddled carefully, briefly mentioning recycling, conservation and expanded storage, while steering clear of his twin tunnels diversion plan.

"Among all our uncertainties," he told a joint session of the Legislature, "weather is one of the most basic. We can't control it. We can only live with it, and now we have to live with a very serious drought of uncertain duration."

A few hours later in Bakersfield, Boehner shot the rapids. Flanked by three Central Valley congressmen, he promised legislation to pump more water south and halt restoration of San Joaquin River salmon habitat.

"How you can favor fish over people is something people in my part of the world would never understand," the Ohio Republican said.

Maybe so, but the Senate already rejected the House bill once -#8212; and for good reason. A drought isn't justification to ignore the Endangered Species Act or undercut one important California industry -#8212; salmon fishing -#8212; in favor of another -#8212; agriculture. Both need assistance to thrive, and both are accomplished water warriors.

Boehner surely scored some points with the most militant growers, but his bill isn't going anywhere. Rather than fighting a futile political battle, House Republicans should accept California Sen Dianne Feinstein's invitation to collaborate.

Despite his soft-sell approach this week, Brown is facing his own multi-front water war. Farmers and environmental groups are at best skeptical of his plan to drill two, 35-mile long tunnels around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to divert water into the aqueduct serving the Central Valley and Southern California.

With new studies suggesting Brown's plan might cost $68 billion -#8212; more than double the original estimate -#8212; a complete reassessment is in order. Would additional storage facilities be more cost-effective? Can the pumping system be adjusted to reduce damage to Delta farms and fish?


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