California's water wars aren't about scarcity. Even with 37 million people and the nation's most irrigation-intensive agriculture, the state usually has enough water for both people and crops, thanks to the brilliant hydrological engineering of past Californians. But now there is a new element in the century-old water calculus: a demand that the state's inland waters flow as pristinely as they supposedly did before the age of dams, reservoirs and canals. Only that way can California's rivers, descending from their mountain origins, reach the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta year-round. Only that way, environmentalists say, can a 3-inch delta fish be saved and salmon runs from the Pacific to the interior restored.
Such green dreams are not new to California politics. But their consequences, in this case, have been particularly dire: rich farmland idled, workers laid off and massive tax revenues forfeited.