Stop the Delta Water Grab

This article appeared today in the SF Chronicle, page A-8. Written by Restore the Delta, it is one of the best write-ups I’ve seen that covers the current state of the politics and clarifies the issues. Worth duplicating here.

Despite Republican Reps. Kevin McCarthy, Devin Nunes and Jeff Denham’s protestations, the recent drought is not man-made. Historical records show California experiences drought about a third of the time. Adverse consequences of the recent drought result not primarily from endangered species protections but from decisions to plant permanent crops that depend on water deliveries that could never be guaranteed.

The original state and federal water project contracts promised farmers in the delta and upstream watersheds that the only water exported would be water that was surplus to needs in the areas of origin. The 5 million acre-feet of North Coast water was to be added to the system, but that water never appeared. Yet, for over 20 years exporters kept taking more and more water anyway.

Even with reduced water deliveries, many south-of-the-delta growers haven’t done too badly. In 2010, at the end of a three-year drought, California had a record almond crop. California supplies 80 percent of the world’s almonds, with most of those exported to China and India. In spite of what the congressmen suggest, these aren’t crops that feed America.

A growing portion of export water isn’t growing food at all. It’s being sold for development in arid parts of the state. People with rights to the water can make more money than through the difficult and uncertain job of farming.

A 2011 study by California Water Research Associates found that 100,000 acres of land in Westlands Water District was fallowed and retired beginning in 2002, well before the drought, because of severe salinity in the soils. No amount of water in the future will make that land suitable for farming.

Research by University of the Pacific’s Jeffrey Michael has shown that joblessness in the southern San Joaquin Valley has been increasing from single to double digits ever since the 1960s. That’s when the Central Valley Project began to supply irrigation water, allowing for intensive, industrial-scale agriculture that required seasonal labor. This region has had the highest unemployment rate in the United States even when there was plenty of surplus water to send south. Instead, recent unemployment is tied to the housing collapse, the foreclosure crisis and the recession they caused. Low-skilled workers have been hit especially hard, but no more in the San Joaquin Valley than in other parts of the state.

Letting water flow to the ocean isn’t wasting water. In addition to providing necessary flows for fish in the delta, outflows flush salts out of south delta waterways, keeping salinity down for growing crops on prime delta farmland. Freshwater flowing out through the bay and the Golden Gate also sustains ocean fisheries worth hundreds of millions of dollars to California’s economy.

The five-county delta region supports more than 1.8 million jobs, and Northern California and the North Coast support hundreds of thousands more. Many of these jobs depend on reliable supplies of fresh water. It is insulting to suggest that those jobs are of less value to California than the jobs of people in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act (HR1837) is an outright water grab – an attempt to subvert 150 years of California water rights law in order to further enrich the top 1 percent of agribusiness corporations. It will allow the federal government to pre-empt California’s ability to manage its own water resources. HR1837 must be stopped before it becomes law.

Jane Wagner-Tyack and Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla represent Restore the Delta.

This article appeared on page A – 8 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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1 Response to “Stop the Delta Water Grab”

  1. 1 mytoothdoc March 14, 2012 at 9:04 am

    ground water is being contaminated by nitrates from the central valley farmers. More water will mean more nitrate polution. Isn’t it time the farmers stopped growing rice and other water consuming crops and adopted new water conservaqtion methods? Developing new technology will bring more money to California’s economy (desalination? Drip irrigation etc)

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