This advertisement from “Californians for Safe, Clean Drinking Water” has been gnawing at my peace of mind since I saw it earlier today, though initially I dismissed it as just your average PAC promotional nonsense. The ad appears to be aimed at creating opposition to a ballot bond initiative which would include plans for a peripheral canal, though the ad itself doesn’t use the term “peripheral canal.” Instead, the ad narrative says that the Governor is trying to “give away our water” to “a few wealthy Southern California corporations” who “want it all for themselves.” Those greedy, thirsty corporations are at it again! According to ACWA, the Association of California Water Agencies, “Californians for Safe, Clean Drinking Water” was formed to aid efforts led by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata to defeat a proposed (now apparently defunct) California Chamber of Commerce-backed water bond for this year’s ballot. Never mind the fact that water is already sent from the Delta to points south. A peripheral canal, if built, is only an engineering fix to the current method of sending water south (which involves sucking it backwards, upstream, through the southern Delta with giant pumps, causing significant detriment to the environment). Also note the contrast with Perata’s advertising in favor of the Proposition 1E levee bond in 2006, which characterized the Delta as “the backbone of the state’s water supply, the lifeblood of our economy” and warned “If this system fails, 25 million of us could lose our water supply.” The same themes were hyped in the ad ACWA was running on television last fall–no mention of those mysterious over-thirsty corporations. The image of the two girls at the drinking fountain tops the whole thing off really, because they don’t appear to be drinking the water at all, but rather sticking their tongues out and playing with it–which, one surmises, is what northern Californians would do with all their extra water if exports south were halted. The major questions–how much water to store, where to store water, how much water to export south out of the Delta, how to export it, and who will pay for it all–should be addressed separately. Unfortunately, if this is a sample of what’s to come, it looks like this campaign will be one of confusion rather than clarification.
Skaidra Smith-Heisters is a policy analyst at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.
Her research is part of Reason's New Environmentalism program, launched by Lynn Scarlett, which develops innovative solutions to environmental problems and emphasizes the benefits of local decisions over Washington's command-and-control regulations.
Smith-Heisters is a graduate of the University of California at Davis program in Nature and Culture. Prior to joining Reason, she worked in habitat restoration, endangered species management and natural resources planning with the California State Parks system.
She has been extensively involved in grassroots journalism and political organizing in San Francisco's North Bay area, where she currently lives.