Max Gomberg, a former climate change mitigation strategist with leftist views, resigned from the California State Water Resources Control Board this month, pointing to Governor Gavin Newsom’s (D-CA) administration’s unwillingness to make changes during a drought in the state.
In a resignation message, Gomberg wrote, “These are dark and uncertain times, both because fascists are regaining power and because climate change is rapidly decreasing the habitability of many places.”
Invoking a wish list of progress policies, Gomberg lamented, “[s]adly, this state is not on a path towards steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions reductions, massive construction to alleviate the housing crisis, quickly and permanently reducing agriculture to manage the loss of water to aridification, and reducing law enforcement and carceral budgets and reallocating resources to programs that actually increase public health and safety.”
He claimed that all of the listed policies “and more” are needed “for an equitable and livable future.” He added, “you convince yourselves that inhabiting the middle ground between advocates and industry (and other status quo defenders) makes you reasonable. But it does not. It makes you complicit.”
The main focus of Gomberg’s ire, however, was directed at Newsom’s administration, along with some of his colleagues.
“Witnessing the agency’s ability to tackle big challenges nearly eviscerated by this Administration has been gut wrenching,” he wrote. “The way some of you have simply rolled over and accepted this has also been difficult to watch.”
Newsom spokesperson Erin Mellon pushed back on Gomberg’s attacks.
“The Governor has worked with the legislature to invest $8 billion to implement the strategies in the Water Resilience Portfolio, which focuses on diversifying our water supplies, enhancing ecosystems, improving infrastructure and ensuring California is better able to manage hotter and drier weather,” Mellon told the Los Angeles Times.
One bright side, according to Gomberg, was the organization’s “commitment to racial equity.” In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, however, he noted that he believes the water rights system is “fundamentally unjust and unsuited to contemporary challenges brought on by climate change.”
The Water Education Foundation explained the water rights process in California. Controversy has arisen through the difference between two methods of securing a right to water. “Riparian rights” belong to people who own land next to a water source, and have the right to utilize the water. “Appropriative rights” came into being during the Gold Rush when settlers could claim the right to water through “first in time, first in right,” meaning whoever claimed the water first got to have it.
According to Aquaoso, certain appropriative rights secured before 1914 in the state have been grandfathered in using a seniority method, but rights given after 1914 must go through a registration process and get official paperwork.
“There is no equitable approach to water management that doesn’t undo that system,” Gomberg said.
Gomberg criticized the administration for going after “voluntary agreements” with large water suppliers to get water for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta’s ecosystem needs, calling their method a “huge waste of time.” He also said he thinks Newsom’s administration has not dealt with inequity in the water rights system, has kept a twenty-year time span for entirely enforcing new groundwater rules, and has favored the “perpetuation of status-quo power structures,” as local groundwater agencies now include people who are on the side of the irrigation districts and the needs of growers.
Gomberg seemed to believe that agriculture was at fault for much of the issues, even as he suggested changing the water rights system. He said the administration has shown “zero inclination” to look into an equilibrium of farmers’ use of water and the environmental and rural communities’ requirements. If water was no longer prioritized for certain environmental initiatives, however, farmers would be in a much better position than they are today in the extremely dry conditions where over 97% of the state is in a “severe drought“ and almost 60% is in “extreme drought.”
He suggested that farming methods need to change in the state, even as farmers struggle to get the resources they need and looming water regulations threaten to further push out small family farms and growers.
“I think California needs an agriculture policy,” Gomberg said. “The de-facto policy is cheap food, as cheap as possible. Don’t do anything that would in any way impinge on the ability of people growing any kind of agricultural product to grow as much as they want, where they want, with however much water they want.”
Gomberg added that California’s many water systems have made it possible for agricultural output to overdraw water resources.
“There are the zillions of acres of almonds and grapes. It’s not sustainable,” Gomberg said. “Everyone knows it’s not sustainable, just like everyone knows the amount of withdrawals from the shrinking Colorado River system are not sustainable. But it’s almost like it’s a game of chicken right now. Everyone’s waiting for someone else to blink.”
Farmers, however, have said they are struggling with the drought, leaving land fallow, or uncultivated, due to a lack of water — not to mention the politics of environmentalism continuing to threaten farms and communities in the state.
Justin Diener runs a farmer in the Central Valley, and told The Daily Wire earlier this year that family farms could be the ones to go in light of new restrictions and intensifying hardship.
“A lot of people have decided that they don’t want any part of it because of the difficulty they’ve seen their parents struggle with it,” he said, noting there is the question of how people will continue and “provide a decent lifestyle and livelihood versus the perceived value that they could get for selling the land.”