How Not to Address the Soviet Republic of California's Water Crisis


Even at the height of shortage-plagued socialist India where I grew up, the one thing no one – even the poorest –

Claudio.Ar / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

ever scrimped on was drinking water. You could drop into any home, any restaurant at any time and, without asking, someone would walk in with a tray carrying a cool, tall glass of water, whether you wanted it or not.  

But in California, one of the richest states in the richest lands on the planet, that simple gesture of hospitality, taken for granted even in poor countries, is now under attack by Gov. Jerry Brown who recently banned restaurants from offering patrons a glass of water unless asked.

Brown says that such radical water austerity is necessary because a drought created by three rainless years. But droughts might be divinely ordained; scarcity is manmade.

The reason that California is suffering from a water shortage is the same reason why there were bread lines in the former Soviet Union: Central planning that allocated goods by fiat to favored groups rather than price signals.

Among the most favored in California, are environmentalists, I note in my column in The Week, who have forced the state to abandon critical water-storage reservoir projects. But that's not all they've done:

They also divert 4.4 million acre-feet of water every year — enough to supply the same number of families — to restore water runs such as the San Joaquin River, allowing passage of salmon and other fish. Without paying a dime, environmentalists have taken control of nearly half of California's water.

Of the remainder, 80 percent goes to farmers, the next most favored group — even though their output is only 2 percent of the state's GDP…

So if Brown wants to make emergency cuts to stretch out the state's water resources, it would be logical to ask groups getting the most to sacrifice the most. But that's not how it works in the Soviet Republic of California.

To find out how it does, go here.