06/05/2014 02:31 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2014

Dianne Feinstein's Unsettling Victory

For a Democrat, Dianne Feinstein's had a surprisingly troubled history with environmental organizations in her home state of California. And speaking as someone who's voted for her a few times now, I've often wished she'd green up her act a little. Her new drought bill -- SB2198 -- has done little to stir my hopes.

I don't get the feeling that Central Valley farmers have been especially judicious stewards of our water. Their wastefulness has been recently documented in the Chronicle, they deplete groundwater without state management, and they try to pass themselves off as some sort of American breadbasket while shipping their crops off to the far east. Why should special provisions be made to ensure plentiful water for surprisingly well-heeled nut farmers when our steelhead and salmon populations are facing collapse? The existing policy was lenient as it was, and I haven't seen any news stories about pistachios disappearing from California.

Yasha Levine of AlterNet put the situation in rather starker terms than I might, but I think he has something:

Water is a sacred issue in California that one day will surely lead to a North-South showdown that could get ugly. Any major change in the state's water policy is so fraught with danger and consequences, that it makes negotiations over how to divide it a long and difficult process. In our imperfect democratic system, this is how we resolve the most difficult problems we face, when different communities have so much at stake. Feinstein apparently decided that democracy wasn't in her interests--or the interests of the rich corporate farmers she serves--so she is trying to circumvent the whole process by sneaking through legislation before anyone can figure it out. For Californians, it was an act of treason, putting the interests of Big Agro above the needs of millions of people who think she represents them. Feinstein was born and raised in San Francisco, where she rose to political prominence; now, she's screwing her hometown region most of all.

At the risk of appearing to make light of the subject, I find some remarkable parallels here to the plot of Chinatown: a drought becomes a pretext to divert water to farmlands; promises to improve the system are quickly forgotten; wealthy, politically connected landowners benefit from it all. The biggest real difference is that what once was salacious enough an affront to our sensibilities to motivate the action of a murder mystery is now apparently a point of bipartisanship.