FROM WATER STEWARDSHIP TO BEE CITIES: California’s Water Woes Show a New Approach is Needed for Focused Environmentalism

Photo credit: A California dam and reservoir, from

By M. Samuel Anderson & John Devine

California has been examining schemes to build new reservoirs and improve the management of existing ones in order to retain water in times of drought, while also lowering water levels to create enough reservoir space, during certain times of the year, so the reservoirs can take in excess water and act as “catch basins” in case of sudden heavy rains that would otherwise cause massive floods.

But while the Golden State’s voters consider drought to be among their chief concerns, one of the biggest water initiatives in the state was still defeated by the voters in the Nov. 6, 2018 election—the Pancheo Reservoir Project.

Accordingly, California Proposition 3, the California Water Infrastructure and Watershed Conservation Bond Initiative, was on the ballot in California as an initiated state statute on November 6, 2018. The $8.877 billion measure had called for the issuance of general obligation bonds and was intended for water infrastructure, groundwater supplies and storage, surface water storage and dam repairs, watershed and fisheries improvements, and habitat protection and restoration.

Notably, with general obligation bonds, the costs would have been repaid by the taxpayers in the form of increased property taxes or some other tax. Had revenue bonds been floated instead, then higher water-usage rates and fees would have been instituted—in a state already taxed to the breaking point. Some Californians are so outraged by the heavy taxation and debt already on the backs of generations yet-to-come that they want to form a 51st state by dividing the state in two.

But we digress. All of the above causes one to wonder why California, like Arizona, is indirectly giving away groundwater to foreign nations—virtually free of charge. This involves those two states allowing foreign interests to grow hay on state land so the hay can be exported to dairies in Saudi Arabia and China, of all things.

Is this a responsible water policy when droughts help induce ever-more-deadly wildfires in western North America, especially California? And what about the value of the water that those states sacrifice?

Furthermore, doesn’t this create a “water trade deficit” on the U.S. side of the ledger? Seems so, since precious water in an already arid U.S. region is being mined chiefly for the benefit of China and Saudi Arabia.

In recent years, National Geographic ran a story on the millions of “acre feet” of water required to grow the hay shipped overseas. And with the topic of tariffs having made recent headlines in Canada and the U.S., one can only wonder why Arizona and California don’t demand a fee, or a type of tariff, to be placed on the hay, to offset the value of the water being mined to supply those foreign diary industries.

In other words, California’s and Arizona’s authorities evidently are fine with practically giving away water and straining the water supplies that are needed domestically (either for direct use, or as a back-up supply in case of shortages) for the sacred cow of free trade; yet home projects involve taxing the population even more, while droves of people flee the state over painfully high taxes and wildfires, mudslides and other extreme dangers.


Hopefully, the need to confirm the health of our waters, and to prevent related trade deficits where applicable, will cause Canadians, Americans and those of other countries to take a deeper look at this issue—while not neglecting situations such as Coca Cola’s bottling of precious groundwater in arid India and shipping it around the world as an ingredient for a sugar-loaded soft drink.

As far as practical ongoing goals, we at the Awakening News, tried though we have, still have not been provided with the exact number of gallons of groundwater being consumed to grow one pound of fish in a fish hatchery. This information should be made available to the public in all countries which are using large quantities of groundwater to farm baitfish or fish for the dinner plate.

One thing is for sure. All countries should be interested in placing a water-extraction tariff on all the farmed fish they export and on other exports that involve domestic water. The revenues from such tariffs could go to domestic water infrastructure/water management projects, which is what should be happening in California and Arizona to lower the burden on heavily-taxed voters so that they might be able to approve water-management ballot proposals in the future.


And, by the way, while common-sense environmental policies to address urgent problems are naturally a welcome thing, there is one major omission surrounding the climate change issue: Virtually the entire discussion centers on atmospheric issues with little or nothing said or done about assessing the status and condition of our water, particularly groundwater.

Consider this: Beyond the Coca Cola example cited above regarding India, we need to consider how Canada’s, America’s and other nation’s aquifers holding up in terms of quality and quantity when huge water bottlers like Nestle, for example, are licensed to remove 400 gallons a minute (as is the case in Michigan; see our recent article here)—and when, as best as we can determine, most fish hatcheries are still using antiquated flow-thru systems (water in, water out) that use as least as much groundwater as do the bottlers and typically pump tainted water back into the ecosystem.

Citizens mainly hear proposals to reduce our carbon footprint, but very little about what needs to be done to preserve our groundwater. Nor is the health of our soils, or the health of earth’s pollinators such as bees, given much emphasis by the scientific community or by our legislatures, counting the U.S., Canada and beyond.


However, there is an increased emphasis on saving the bees, especially lately. Because a steep loss of bees and other pollinators could conceivably imperil humanity’s future more directly and quickly than incremental climate change could, this is an especially positive development that can broaden our environmental horizons and improve our focus.

On that positive note, the bottom line is that we need to bring people and ideas together to retool fish hatcheries with water-recycling and cleaning systems that can reduce hatchery groundwater usage by 90%, take a harder look at the regulation of the water-bottling industry, and review the possibility of taxing water mining and extractions connected to exports. Common sense, communication and cooperation are the key. And Awakening News seeks to be a major conduit to foster the process of finding lasting solutions.