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In Dry California, Dams or High-Speed Rail Is a False Choice

The flaws in House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s favorite argument.
A full-scale mock-up of a high-speed train is displayed at the capitol in Sacramento, California.
A full-scale mock-up of a high-speed train is displayed at the capitol in Sacramento, California.AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

To many Californians, the Central Valley is what you drive through on Interstate 5 between the Bay and Los Angeles: five and a half hours of fields, gas stations, and the occasional sign ranting against the government. “Congress Created the Dust Bowl” is the classic, but lately you’ll also see “Dams Or Trains: Build Water Storage NOW” and “Dam Train: Governor put our Water BEFORE your Train!

Those billboards hint at the complicated political terrain that the bland interstate belies. Some of the state’s biggest showdowns are happening in the Central Valley. In Fresno, the region’s largest city, workers broke ground in January on the state’s high-speed rail line, a $68 billion project fervently opposed by many local residents. The Valley is also where the drought’s worst human impacts are being felt, between farmers fallowing their fields after multiple water delivery cuts and residents watching their wells go dry or suffering from poor air quality.