Skip to Content

Op-Eds and Speeches

Resurrecting 'Eureka' in California

OP-ED: Resurrecting 'Eureka' in California
National Review
Chairman Rob Bishop

“Eureka!” (“I have found it.”) Coined for the discovery of gold that brought adventurers and entrepreneurs flocking to the elusive western border of our continent, California’s state motto has held true for generations: It’s a uniquely American sentiment, inspired by California’s mountains, desert, ocean, and valley. Americans of all ages and backgrounds for several generations flocked to this place of hope on the West Coast in response to its credo that dreams are achievable.

Today, the California dream is at risk. The optimism for which California is renowned is being choked by drought. The water crisis crippling the state is not simply the result of prolonged severe-weather patterns. The radical special interests of the Left are driving the effects of the drought from bad to catastrophic. Man-made water diversions are creating unemployment and eroding the very fabric of a way of life in parts of the state.

Despite the natural drought, big-money, agenda-driven environmental groups have put pressure on lawmakers and judges to divert billions of gallons of water away from communities that desperately need it, letting it run to the Pacific Ocean instead. Two major pumping stations that transferred water to communities in the San Joaquin Valley have been curtailed under the pretext of saving the three-inch Delta smelt. The Delta-smelt population has not increased while litigation and judicial rulings continue the status quo of flushing water toward the fish. Meanwhile, federal bureaucratic “paralysis by analysis” has stymied construction and improvement of dams, the primary means of capturing, storing, and distributing water throughout the west. Indeed, the last major federal dam built in California opened in 1979, and the bulk of the infrastructure connecting major population centers in the state was built a decade before.

The human consequences of these policies are appalling. Last year, the unemployment rate in Fresno County, an area among the worst in suffering from lack of water, was double the national average. Statewide, more than 400,000 acres of farmland were fallowed last year. This year, this number could be more than double that. California is home to industries ranging from oil to agriculture, from Silicon Valley to Hollywood. Its more than 77,000 farms and ranches export more than 400 agricultural commodities, worth tens of billions of dollars annually. These industries, like all human life, are ultimately sustained by water. Without water, crops cannot be grown, rural jobs and economies cannot be sustained, energy cannot be developed, and new technologies cannot be created. Leading U.S. demographer (and Californian) Joel Kotkin put it best when he recently wrote, “As a result, the great American land of opportunity is devolving into something that resembles feudalism, a society dominated by rich and poor, with little opportunity for upward mobility for the state’s middle and working classes.”

California and other areas of the west are drying up while the Left only howls “climate change.” Make no mistake, when they demand a response to climate change, only one response will suffice: control. At the expense of millions of people, ideological elites seek increased control over which communities receive water and which communities run dry, control over which industries thrive and which industries fail. California’s Hispanic population, a significant number of whom rely on work in the Central Valley’s farming communities, have been disproportionately hurt by the Left’s water-control policies. This control will never change the temperature, but it will change people’s lives. Like all top-down control, it will make the people of California poorer and less free. The proof is in the pudding: People are fleeing California in droves for freer, more prosperous states such as Texas. If “Eureka” comes from the ancient Greek for “I have found it!” it seems as if many Californians are now saying, “I have had it!”

As chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources in the U.S. House of Representatives, I refuse to cede to worn out ideologically driven presumptions. Rather, I believe that human beings can live harmoniously with our environment without deprivation, and that human entrepreneurship and technology can solve difficult problems — even one as serious as the drought in the west and California specifically.

Those who disagree with the first precept must look at the history of California. California and the west were able to be settled in the first place only because of the complex system of dams, irrigation, and canals that government and industry designed and erected in the 19th and 20th centuries, which captured water in the northern part of the state and transferred it to the drier areas in the arid south (the very infrastructure that current policies want to undermine). Spurred on by the “Eureka!” revelation in the gold rush, human innovation transformed a tough habitat for mammals into thriving cities and lush farmland. Animals, plants, and people have flourished as a result.

Those who continue to be pessimistic about the ability of human beings and technology to solve serious problems should look no further than to the people of the Golden State. Hollywood has certainly changed the way the world views America. It has helped our nation tell the world’s stories, providing us a powerful and dynamic platform; and it has at times promoted the freedoms and adventures that living in America brings. Once a desert, California’s farming industry has given us a lush breadbasket that feeds our great nation. Half of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts consumed in the U.S. are grown in California. It has been the inspiration for great American novels, including Of Mice and Men. Silicon Valley is perhaps the trademark industry of the 21st century. The iPhone has literally transformed the way human beings interact. California’s oil producers are harnessing new energy from centuries-old fields, ushering us into an American energy age that is bolstering our diplomatic power on the global stage. These industries — and others — and the Californians who create them and rely on them are in peril if the current water crisis is not resolved through better short-term and long-term policies.

If Californians can change the world, our nation can certainly solve the problems resulting from the western drought. Walter Russell Mead was appropriately blunt when he wrote, earlier this year: “That our largest state is a hopeless muddle, its infrastructure is in disarray, and its cost structure is increasingly uneconomic — this isn’t something that the rest of the country can just slough off. This is a national concern partly because the U.S. economy can’t do really well if California is sick; and partly because many of the same problems now choking California have taken root in other states as well as at the federal level.”

More centralized command and control, including more rationing and more regulation, will only exacerbate the water crisis. What is now needed is the very innovation, hard work, and entrepreneurial spirit that sparked “Eureka!” and the settlement of California. In July, the House of Representatives passed creative, bipartisan legislation in keeping with these American values. It prioritizes people over ideology so that Californians can get the water they need, now and into the future. This legislation encourages water storage for the long term and streamlines infrastructure permits so that we can capture water in wet seasons in order to survive the dry ones. I am hopeful that the Senate will consider and act on this critical legislation and other measures and that it is signed into law by the president, so that the western water crisis will begin to be addressed and that California and other drought-stricken areas in the West will be once again a thriving region of hope and opportunity.

Click here to view article in the National Review