Versailles in California

mel_brooks_king_california_9-21-14-1 Versailles or San Francisco, it's good to be the king.

California is run from a sort of Pacific Versailles, an isolated coastal compound of elite rulers physically cut off from its interior peasantry.

To understand how California works -- or rather does not work -- drive over the I-5 Grapevine and gaze down at the brilliantly engineered artificial Pyramid Lake. Thanks to California water project deliveries, even in a third year of drought its level still fluctuates between 90 to 100% full -- ensuring, along with its companion reservoirs, plentiful water for the Los Angeles-area municipalities for the next two years. The far distant watersheds and reservoirs that feed Pyramid Lake are about bone dry.

The same disconnect is true of Crystal Springs Reservoir along the I-280 near San Francisco. The Sierra watershed that supplies the now 90%+full lake is drying up. But San Francisco will have an assured water supply from its manmade reservoirs for some time, even if the drought persists.

Yet most of the policies of the state that have led to cancellations of additional water projects over the last thirty years -- or those that have resulted in vast diversions of diminished reservoir water from contracted agricultural use to fish replenishment -- are made by Los Angeles and San Francisco area legislators, judges, and public officials.

It would be as simplistic as it is true to say that water policy in California has been set by those who have plentiful water supplies in manmade reservoirs with the highest priorities in claims on far distant snow melts. Water elites pontificate about environmental restrictions on water use to others who do not enjoy a rank so high in the water-allotment queue.

By that I mean at no time did any Los Angeles or San Francisco legislator offer to divert their Pyramid Lake or Crystal Springs allotments to replenish the San Joaquin River for salmon runs or to improve the delta landscape of the 3-inch delta smelt.  Instead I think the mentality could best be summed up as something like, “Unnatural dams and reservoirs are necessary to supply water for elite coastal grandees like us so that we can live in arid, picturesque Pacific communities without aquifers and thereby have the leisure to cut off water for others not so worthy.”

The same paradox is true of public utility policy. There are rarely frosts or scorching 100-degree temperatures from San Diego to Berkeley, the coastal strip where there is little need for air conditioners or for daylong use of central heating. For hoi aristoi, California's public utilities can be regulated and taxed for all sorts of utopian alternative energy investments in lieu of drawing on massive newly discovered fields of California natural gas to lower generation rates.