Farming

Sacramento’s tunnel vision will destroy Delta, make fat cat hedge fund farmers richer

Tulare Lake. Gone.

Owens Lake. On a resuscitator but near death.

Mono Lake: Its life hangs in the balance.

They – and many more California lakes and rivers – were the victim of defying Mother Nature and sucking massive amounts of water from one basin to another.

Bypassing a massive amount of water from the Delta ecological system by tunneling under it — what could possibly go wrong?

It is why the recent reincarnation of Los Angeles’ not-to-secret plan to destroy the Delta along with their partners-in-crime on the western side of Kern County is pure tunnel vision.

For starters, let’s go back to the original sin committed after the State Water Project that brought us the California Aqueduct was authorized by the Legislature and approved by the voters.

It was supposed to make existing farming at the time sustainable and to reduce the draft on groundwater that has made the Valley the global poster child for subsidence.

Instead, land speculators were able to work with bureaucrats to use a loophole to send water to the desert lands of western Kern County.

Mega corporations, along with family-owned concerns whose “farmhouses” were mansions in Beverly Hills, were able to get water to an area even lacking in groundwater to grow almonds, pistachios and cottons.

We need to be clear on this point: Farming is essential for our survival. It is a key part of the California economy. Our exports also help feed the rest of the country and the world.

That said, all farmers are not created equal.

The tunnel will benefit only a handful of “farmers” who are more at home dickering with hedge funds than they are at trimming a hedge. They have corporate deep pockets. They are farming land that was non-farmable before the State Water Project came along. They were the last to stick their straws into California’s intricate water storage and conveyance system.

They are draining water away from other farmers including those on the west side and deep in the Valley that the State Water Project was meant to stabilize.

Instead, the slight-of-hand that converted desert land into farmland via companies with the money to outspend family farms with ease has been able to commandeer water courtesy of the state’s bureaucracy to become immensely rich.

Then we have the other primary benefactor of the tunnel project — the Metropolitan Water District that includes Los Angeles and a large swath of Southern California. The tunnel, they claim, won’t increase their share of water and single drop. Instead, it will simply stabilize flows and protect them against earthquakes toppling levees, court orders mandating fish flows, and the ravages of drought.

This should scare the holy LA out of you if you are in Northern California, the Delta, or reside in the collective basins of the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers.

Who do you think will pay the price? It won’t be Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of the privately held $5 billion agri-conglomerate that includes Wonderful Pistachios and Wonderful Almonds and who live in Beverly Hills. Nor will it be developers in Los Angeles building more homes and swimming pools in a basin that lacks the water naturally to sustain what is already in place.

The courts – or more precisely the state – will need to get water from somewhere to protect the already fragile Delta and fish as well as keep salt water at bay.

San Francisco has been paying $30,000 a year for the right to destroy a segment of Yosemite National Park and bypass the Delta with a massive pipe that runs beneath Modesto to divert much of the flow of the Tuolumne River and preventing it from benefitting the Delta ecological system before it reaches faucets in the Bay Area.

As a result, San Francisco has avoided impacts on their water supply from court-imposed flows for fish and even most state-imposed drought cutbacks.

It’s the same sweetheart deal Los Angeles is after with the Delta tunnel.

Even so, that is just a Trojan horse,

The real prize is excessive runoff from winter storms and such that flows into the Pacific Ocean.

The backers in LA tipped their hands this time emphasizing that the tunnel would only divert water when there is extraordinary runoff from massive winter storms.

Then call it what it is. The tunnel is the Metropolitan Water District’s plan to beat everyone to capture excess water beyond what the current storage system can handle.

The state and local jurisdictions are now doing much wiser planning such as off-stream reservoirs and looking to do massive groundwater recharge project.

But if Los Angeles and western Kern County can squirrel away that excess flow first via the tunnel they can recharge the massive water bank created at the southern end of the Valley before anyone else captures one excess drop of water.

They could easily capture enough excess precipitation that current reservoirs can’t capture that would be the equivalent of a Shasta Lake.

Not a bad trick for a tunnel that won’t bring “even one additional drop of water” to Southern California from northern state water basins.

Of course, backers now say water diversion will only take place in times of excess precipitation and higher than average river flows.

But after the slight-of-hand Los Angeles did to destroy Owens Valley, who is naive enough to believe that a tunnel won’t be used at some point during normal water years to rob the Delta of life-giving water?

And let’s not forget the damage the tunnel will do to the Delta and San Joaquin County where most of the Delta land mass and waterways lie.

Salt water intrusion will slowly kill off the ecological system as it spreads further west on a more routine basis.

At the same time less seepage in the Delta means the aquifer under it will also be a victim of more salt water intrusion.

Back in the 1989 drought, salt water was detected in deep wells as far east as Jack Tone Road.

Imagine the tunnel implications to the ground water drinking supplies for local communities.

It will hurt fish. It will hurt Delta farming. And — if the state is correct in what its plans are to exclusively use the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers instead of touching the Sacramento River flow that Los Angles sucks up to protect the endangered Chinook salmon — it will severely hurt San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties.

By the state’s own admission, their plan to increase water flows would perhaps increase the number of Chinook salmon on the three rivers by 1,103 more fish. In exchange, a study conducted by the state indicated 4,000 jobs would be lost in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, 130,000 acres of farmland would be valued and the regional economy would take a $12.9 billion hit.

What’s not to like about the Delta tunnel plan if you are a Beverly Hills farmer worth $5 billion or a Southern California homeowner eager to add a swimming pool you can fill with water diverted from flowing into the Delta?

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Courier or 209 Multimedia.

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