My Turn: Water wars

By From page A4 | July 17, 2013

The Delta is starving for water, so California officials setup a plan to take more water out of the delta. How does make any sense?

California has had a long history of water wars, with many battles, and once again the state is gearing up for another fight.

The latest “new” Delta plan was released on May 16 and so far five lawsuits were filed and probably more to come.

The Delta Stewardship Council says their plan meets the “coequal” needs of those depending on delta water and provides “reliability” for water contractors.

The main part of the council’s plan consists of tapping into the Sacramento River and shipping its fresh water down to the industrialized farms on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. These contractors were originally the lowest priority to receive delta water, but somehow that has changed.

The council was given the task to make sure that these water deliveries do not destroy the delta. That is nearly impossible because there’s not enough fresh water.

The state and federal officials promised the contractors more water than what Northern California rivers can provide. We don’t have enough water now. That’s why the council is calling it a crisis.

In addition, it’s difficult to pin down the final cost of the plan with so many state officials quoting different numbers. They’ve quoted the price ranging from $24 to $54.1 billion.

The “water reliability” side of the plan is the construction of two tubes, 40 feet wide, 150 feet underground carrying fresh water for 35 miles through the middle of the Delta to the existing Tracy pumps. That’s deeper, longer and wider than the $45 billion New York Subway project.

The “environmental” side of the plan wants to expand the delta to provide more habitat. This part will be paid by the 2014 Water Bond and will provide $11 billion to restore the delta and the state’s various infrastructure improvements.

Repairs to California’s infrastructure is what we really need.

The first lawsuit was filed on May 24 by Westland’s Water District — the main recipient of 9,000 cubic-feet-per-second of fresh water that these tubes will provide.

Westlands is a privately owned business. Their customers are not small farmers. They haven’t had any farms of 160 acres or less since 1978. According to the Interior Department task force, not one single farm in Westlands district is smaller than 3,000 acres, and their farms sit in an alkali dessert.

These Westlands farmers need large volumes of water to flush out the toxins in the soil just to grow crops such as cotton and grains. Close to 50 percent of their profits come from taxpayers in the last 10 years because there is little or no market for these products.

They do not grow table fruits or vegetables that have a high rate of return because the soil is so toxic.

Westlands believes the 2009 Delta Restoration Act released them from any responsibility to the Delta’s health.

This act was slammed through by both state houses in a short 13 days with little or no discussion. They left it to the council to figure it out what to do.

The Delta Stewardship Council says its main focus is on “Coequal” goals and “Water reliability.”

Before the act, the state had a responsibility to the Delta’s health. That was its highest priority. Only after that was assured would the state address the water contractor’s needs.

Now, according to the Westlands lawsuit and hearing some statements made by various state water officials, I wonder if the Delta’s health has a higher priority anymore.

The another lawsuit was filed on June 17 by fishing, environmental and farming groups who depend on the Delta’s health for their livelihood.

The Delta farmers joined with the many environmentalists because they need fresh water to grow their crops. Too much water pulled out of the Delta by these tubes would bring brackish water up to their pumps.

The Delta agribusiness and environmentalist’s lawsuit objects to the council’s indifference toward accepted science by not even looking at the environmental reports that are required by the 2009 legislation. They believe the council did this so they can justify the expense of this project.

California had a quiet period for a few years, but it appears with the battle swords drawn and documents filed, we’re in for a another long fight.

Pat Snelling ran for the board of the Georgetown Divide Public Utility District last year and is a resident of Garden Valley.

Pat Snelling

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