So far, folks in the Delta — including many farmers and water users in San Joaquin County — have been the flyover country in the debate about how to ensure stable delivery of quality water to places where the wet stuff isn’t.
The Public Policy Institute of California, UC Davis and other outfits have largely spat out plans and analysis boosting the death of the Delta via peripheral canal or tunnel. But the Delta Protection Commission is bringing a measure of Delta-centric sanity with its newly minted draft report.
Overlooked by conventional wisdom, the commission says, is the $200 million-a-year hit the Delta farm industry alone could suffer if the canal were built. That figure is worst-case and would more likely be in the $50 million range, the report’s writers have conceded, but the potential for damage exceeds the $85 million caused to south-Central Valley farmers by a perfect storm of drought, environmental restrictions and poor planting practices.
(And many of those West Side Central Valley farmers were using subsidized water to till land that was never good for sustainable farming, anyway, but that’s a story for another column.)
The Delta Protection Commission also says the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan — the plan that somehow thinks the Delta would be protected by shipping high-quality water around it — greatly overestimates the worth of a canal to its beneficiaries and continually downplays the value of Delta communities. The commission also declared that the other reports underestimate the damage to farmers, cities, recreation and wildlife caused by increased salinity in the Delta, an inevitable fact of building a peripheral canal or tunnel.
In short, the commission
recommends that “the Stewardship Council (responsible for ensuring California’s water supply and protecting and restoring the Delta) … seek out more impartial and accurate sources when it comes to economic analysis.”
Thanks, guys, for stepping up for a region that’s worth $2.8 billion a year in agriculture.
The defense is especially timely. Because right now, our state’s most important estuary needs all the protection it can get.
Just this month, activist group Restore the Delta caught canal supporters hammering out a backroom deal with members of the governor’s and president’s administrations to get their pipe dream on the fast track.
“… Those who want to take additional water away from Northern California and the Delta are crafting a finance plan without California taxpayer and/or ratepayer input,” said Restore the Delta’s Barbara Barrigan-Parilla, as quoted by journalist Dan Bacher.
According to Barrigan-Parilla, with whom I’ve spoken before regarding California’s water wars, these meetings haven’t been publicly noticed and haven’t been open to scrutiny.
If you needed more proof that a canal is a pre-desired outcome — no mind to the cost, common sense or ill effects — this is it.
At this point, Delta residents and workers aren’t even at the kids’ table. They’re locked outside, with precious little input about their fate.
That must change, because it’s those folks who will bear the heaviest burden of this 21st century water grab.
But why should Tracy care? That’s the crucial question around here.
Why should Tracy go to bat for the Delta? Why not get behind a pumping and peripheral canal plan? Especially when the city pulls a portion
of its water supply from the Delta-Mendota Canal, a source that would theoretically improve in quality and reliability if a canal were built, and especially when farmers just south and west of the city rely on that pumped water to keep their outfits afloat?
Aside from it being the right thing, you mean? OK, then.
I’ve called Tracy the Crossroads of California because of its railroads and interstates. But it’s also true when it comes to water. Tracy uses both pre-pumped water (from the Stanislaus River) and post-pumped water (from the Delta-Mendota), and surrounding farms use a similar hodgepodge of water sources.
That split interest — putting us on neither one side nor the other — gives Tracy’s voice weight and the chance to be a clear-eyed arbiter.
Tracy’s unique place puts its leaders and residents in a position to be a voice of reason.
And reason suggests, at the very least, that those who call the Delta home should have a voice in a decision that could forever alter their way of life.
• Share your thoughts with Jon Mendelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.