The Good, the Bad and the Ugly…

Written By: Robin Bartholow, Sonoma County Farm Bureau Deputy Executive Director
Published: July 10, 2022

I like the idea of tackling more than one subject this month, so in a nod to Clint Eastwood, I’ll address a few current topics and categorize them as the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. But I am always a sucker for happy endings, so I’ll reverse the order and end the column with the Good.
The Ugly. Years of lack of planning and ineffective strategies from the state to create infrastructure to grow the surface water supply is ugly, and it is getting uglier.

This was the focus of a letter to Governor Newsom last week from more than 20 business and agriculture organizations to press their case for the state to grow the water supply through storage infrastructure investment and planning. The California Farm Bureau was signatory to the letter, and it is a clarion call to action. The letter opens with this:

“As business leaders from across the state, we are writing to sound the alarm: the lack of water supply is harming business operations, jeopardizing jobs, causing food disruptions and disincentivizing investment in California. Our existing water system can no longer deliver the water necessary to sustain the world’s fifth largest economy.”

They are sounding the alarm, but is anyone in Sacramento listening as they govern one of the world’s most important economic engines? Fingers crossed, but I’m not holding my breath.

The letter points out that, “we still do not have a goal to grow the water supply.” Instead, the expectation is that “homes and businesses will learn to do more with less.” But this is the sentence that stopped me in my tracks: “As a result, we are merely managing economic decline.” This sounds like an excerpt from some dystopian futuristic novel where priorities have been misplaced for so long that the results are disastrous, but it isn’t.

In fact, “merely managing economic decline” is the antithesis of what our government is charged to do at all levels: to engage in (or at least get out of the way of) comprehensive economic development strategies for the benefit of our community, state, and country.

While I have no argument against “doing more with less” as a general rule, there is only so long that can be a strategy before it is no longer possible to do whatever it is you are doing. Basic math holds that, over time, less from less inevitably becomes zero, and that strategy makes zero sense.
California, as the letter points out, currently has the resources to make the long-term investments that would make a real difference in our ability to capture and store storm water and flood waters to increase our water supplies.

However, only $500 million has been earmarked in the Governor’s budget for strategic water storage, and that is to be spent over multiple years. This lack of financial commitment to expand storage infrastructure, partnered with the present approach of reducing use of land for agricultural production will devastate a large sector of the California economy and create commodity shortages around the nation and world.

There are negative ripple effects from ineffectual water management and planning apart from agriculture, including our inability to build much-needed housing and to be good stewards of our public lands. These ripples combine and lead to economic disinvestment and decline in California. How can it be that “strategic water storage” infrastructure is not better funded when, as the authors of the letter conclude, if we do not solve our state’s water supply problem “the future of our state is at stake.”

The Bad. June voter turnout in Sonoma County is expected to be “average” for a mid-term primary, and that is bad. According to the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters, there are 304,008 registered voters in Sonoma County. Though all the votes have not been counted as I write this, it is projected that 50% of registered voters will have turned out in the June election. A .500 average would be excellent (and historic!) if you are a baseball player, but in elections, it is anemic at best. I am a glass-half-full person normally, but the voter turnout in June was a glass-half-empty.

At all levels, voting remains the one activity we can all take part in to express our voice in the process of our democracy. Many folks (including myself) miss taking part in an election from time to time as life throws its curves. But I am stunned by folks (including very smart people in my life) who rarely or never vote. By not voting, we give away our power and allow our representatives to be elected by a ludicrously small percentage of our population.
In the 2020 general election, Sonoma County boasted the highest voter turnout in the state at nearly 90.5%. That is something to be proud of and my hope is that turnout percentages are in the 90% range locally, nationally and in every election. An aspiration to be sure, but if reached we will indeed witness representative government.

The Good. There is good news out of the University of Georgia: the Monarch butterfly is doing “quite well” and is one of the most widespread butterflies in North America. Sometimes it feels like all our news is bad news, and I have heard alarming reports over the past several years about the Monarch’s declining numbers, so this was a welcome report.

While the authors of the study caution that climate change continues to pose dangerous challenges to some insects, others continue to do well. According to the study, some Monarch populations are no longer migrating because of the change in the climate and because people are planting milkweed, the Monarch’s required food and habitat, in their gardens. So, for just a moment, enjoy with me this bit of good news because the resilient Monarch is doing quite well.
Quote of the Month: “You can’t talk your way out of problems you behave yourself into.” Stephen R. Covey.

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