Economist Tom Sowell once aptly wrote that there are no solutions, there are only tradeoffs. This can be no better seen than in the recent enactment of California Senate Bill 375, which will unknowingly trade precious groundwater resources for "smart growth," anti-urban sprawl policies.
Under this legislation, water will no longer be gold in California; ethereal concepts about reducing global warming and producing green power will be California's new fool's gold. As Los Angeles is facing the specter of an 85 percent cut in imported water deliveries from Northern California, it should consider how embracing popular environmental policies has resulted in what is being called the perfect drought.
SB 375 requires regional planning agencies to put into place sustainable growth plans. It will require that new housing development be shifted from the urban fringe, where groundwater resources are more abundant, such as San Bernardino County, to highly dense urban areas near public transit and light rail lines, such as Los Angeles and Pasadena, where local water sources are patchy and often polluted. The environmental intent of SB 375 is to reduce auto commuter trips, air pollution and gasoline consumption.
However, the legislation will unintentionally result in more reliance on imported water supplies from the Sacramento Delta, Mono Lake and the Colorado River for thirsty cities along California's coastline instead of diverting development to inland areas that have more sustainable groundwater resources.
This can be clearly seen by viewing the California Department of Water Resources map of Groundwater Basins in California. The populous coastal areas of the state have spotty groundwater resources, while the inland areas have the most abundant water basins to sustain new development.
SB 375 makes no sense from even a global warming perspective. Higher temperatures are generated in dense urban areas with more buildings and pavement, and less vegetation. Conversely, suburban and urban fringe areas with less hardscape and more vegetation are generally cooler. This is called the Urban Heat Island Effect. Concentrating housing development in already highly dense urban areas will only worsen the urban heat island effect and thus increase global warming.
Moreover, by virtue of shifting to reliance on imported water supplies, California will need to buy more imported coal-fired and natural gas-generated electricity to pump that water to urban centers located far from the sources of water.
Fortunately, the new law doesn't yet mandate local governments to comply with the plans. No real changes are expected until regional planning agencies adopt the sustainable-communities growth policies called for in the law three years from now. However, if cities choose not to comply, then state transportation tax funds can conceivably be diverted to compliant cities. That SB 375 is a license for greedy coastal cities in Democratic strongholds along the coast to capture the taxes of inland cities in Republican territory is never mentioned in the media. Environmentalism serves as a cover for politics by other means.
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