California and six other drought-stricken states have until Tuesday to negotiate a deal to reduce their insatiable thirst for water from the Colorado River by up to 30%.
Don’t hold your breath.
As the New York Times reported over the weekend, no one is volunteering to make the cuts the federal government is now demanding, but blame abounds. Rocky Mountain states Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah blame downstream users; Nevada says enough has been done; and California’s mega user, the Imperial Irrigation District, said coming water shortages are not its problem.
This is a big sticking point. As CalMatters water reporter Alastair Bland noted earlier this month, the Imperial water area sucks up more water from the Colorado River than Nevada and Arizona combined. Still, growers there say they’re “all squeezed out.”
The negotiations between the states have not been going smoothly for a long time. Last year, the Biden administration gave the seven states until August 16 to come up with a plan for the unprecedented cuts. States flew past it.
Now we have a better sense of what happened (or didn’t). The Associated Press got their hands on some of the emails that made up this failed haggle.
- Chris Harris, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California: “I really think we’re at an impasse and we’re all headed for a very dark place.”
A second failure could force the federal government to impose unilateral restrictions. That would turn 101 years of regional water policy on its head and almost guarantee that a final water deal goes to court
And while the river’s drying up forces Colorado tribal farmers to lay fallow fields, suspected mob victims reappear in Nevada, and Hoover Dam’s power-generating capacity is threatened, golf courses in Palm Springs are being spared — at least for now.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the Coachella Valley Water District recently announced plans to reduce the water it uses to replenish its underground aquifers, avoiding the need to serve the area’s largest users, namely country clubs and resorts to impose mandatory cuts.
Here’s your regular reminder that the nine-part soak that California suffered in late December and earlier this month didn’t end the state’s 1,085-day drought, as updated in the CalMatters tracker — although it did offer welcome relief.
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Other stories you should know
Stealing from California’s neediest
For all the attention organized shoplifting and “porch piracy” receive, California is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar crime wave you may not even know about: EBT theft.
As reported by CalMatters’ Jeanne Kuang, low-income Californians reported more than $34 million in stolen food stamps and cash assistance funds on their electronic benefit transfer cards between July 2021 and September 2022.
The state ultimately recovers the losses, meaning taxpayers end up footing the bill. However, this repayment process can take months. People like Courtney Abrams, a 33-year-old single mother who is dependent on government aid while she is in college, can’t afford the long wait.
- abrams: “I’ve maxed out credit cards, made promises to pay, talked to my landlord, let him know my money was stolen… I had to plead your case with these people in a situation that sounds kind of far-fetched. ”
EBT theft is a national scourge and one that is dramatically on the rise. Reported thefts across California increased 40-fold between 2021 and 2022. In part because the benefit cards themselves are particularly vulnerable to digital theft, as they lack the security chips found on most credit and debit cards. As Jeanne reports, the Newsom administration and many supporters want to fix that.
But that would come with an additional one-time cost as state legislatures look for ways to save.
California’s Reparations Task Forcethe nation’s first committee tasked with investigating what the state owes black Californians for generations of discrimination met Friday and Saturday in San Diego to flesh out how a state reparations policy might work in practice, and who would benefit from it.
Wendy Fry of the CalMatters California Divide team was there and shared some of the things the group agreed on: A new agency is needed, a residency standard is needed, and the task force will need a little more time to figure that out.
Paving the way for autonomous big rigs
Self-driving semis may be coming onto a freeway near you.
A new bill tabled late last week would give the green light to large robots and other autonomous vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or more to begin test drives in California. But there’s a catch: a flesh-and-blood human would have to stay in the cab.
That might offer some comfort to Californians at a time when public concerns about the roadworthiness of artificial intelligence are rising:
But the new California proposal isn’t just about safety. Restrictions will be made on self-driving trucks supported by organized labor.
More news from the road: Since 2015, more than one million undocumented immigrants have obtained driver’s licenses in California. This is thanks to a state law that advocates at the time said would promote public safety and allow those in the country illegally to contribute more to society and the economy.
But as CalMatters’ Wendy Fry explains, the law still has its detractors eight years after it went into effect. And even some immigrant rights advocates say it’s not a pure good.
University of California Reclamation
You may have forgotten that tens of thousands of graduate students and other academic employees at the University of California went on strike late last year in the largest higher education strike in US history.
But not the 48,000 strikers. In fact, they might soon be paying for it.
If UC prevails, striking workers will have to pay back all the money they earned while picketing, reports Mikhail Zinshteyn, college reporter for CalMatters.
A spokesman said the university has a legal obligation to recover the funds. But unions say members are entitled to a review process before their future salary is docked. Last week they filed a complaint with state labor inspectorates.
The nearly six-week strike ended after the government agreed to impose immediate wage increases of between 20% and 80% and provide bigger social benefits – but they did more than a third of union members voted against the deal.
UC estimates the five-year deal will cost the system more than $500 million. Now the administrators are trying to pay for it. A potential point on the chopping block, according to the Los Angeles Times: graduate student admissions.
- UC Government Council Chairman Richard Leib: “I think it was a good agreement and I’m happy about it. But there are consequences. It’s not like the money comes from heaven.
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