[env-trinity] Lloyd Carter on California Water Issues - Westlands Included

Byron bwl3 at comcast.net
Thu Dec 22 13:36:04 PST 2005

California's water woes in 2005

Posted by  <http://gristmill.grist.org/user/Lloyd%20Carter> Lloyd Carter at
9:26 AM on 22 Dec 2005 

Like Old Man River, another year has rolled by in California's water world
and, as usual, things have gotten worse. The year started with recurring
news reports of the continuing decline of several critical fish species in
the Bay-Delta Estuary, which is also the source of drinking water for 23
million Californians.

Then in the wake of Hurricane Katrina last summer came sobering news that
the fragile Delta levee system near Sacramento and Stockton could collapse
in a major earthquake or a horrendous storm event, causing massive
destruction and loss of life. Undeterred, developers proposed another
100,000 homes in the Delta region -- below the levees!

Last month the state's Little Hoover Commission released
<http://lhc.ca.gov/lhcdir/183/report183.pdf> a report (PDF) criticizing
"CALFED," the consortium of state and federal agencies created in 1994 to
"solve" the problems of the Delta. More than a decade and $3 billion later,
the Little Hoover Commission report notes CALFED has little to claim in the
way of improvements for the Delta or the state's water problems.

"Frustration with CALFED is warranted," the commission told Gov.
Schwarzenegger and the legislature in a November 17 public letter. 

[T]he winds of Hurricane Katrina have reached California -- blowing out the
flicker of confidence that officials had in the ability of Delta levees to
withstand earthquakes, rising sea levels and inevitable winter floods. Some
$3 billion have been spent trying to fix the Delta. But the Delta smelt that
some consider to be the estuary's coal mine canary are even harder to find
than stakeholders who are willing to put up their own money to continue
funding CALFED.

The fundamental problem, in my view, is that the two primary agencies in
CALFED, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) and the California
Department of Water Resources (DWR), have spent the last several decades
building a water-delivery system primarily for agribusiness, and they still
act like it's the 1960s. Other agencies in CALFED, such as the U.S.
Geological Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the California
Department of Fish and Game add window dressing to CALFED's prestige, but
rarely have the final say.

Thus, while the Delta fishery is collapsing, the Bureau and DWR are both
pushing increased exports from the Delta -- as much as 25 percent more.

And the Bureau, in a process occurring outside the CALFED framework, wants
to provide Westlands Water District in the western San Joaquin Valley a
25-year water contract (with a virtually automatic 25-year renewal clause)
for over one million acre-feet of water. An acre-foot of water is 325,851
gallons and will meet the domestic needs of two families of five for a year.
In other words, the 400 growers in Westlands will get enough water to meet
the needs of a city of 10 million people.

This massive amount of water apparently will be provided even though the
600,000-acre Westlands has unsolvable drainage problems caused by the trace
element selenium and plans to take as much as 200,000 acres out of
production. Westlands drainage water containing selenium poisoned the
Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge more than 20 years ago.

Even more amazing, the Bureau wants to build another Kesterson evaporation
pond facility -- three times larger than the original one -- for Westlands'
400 growers, at a cost of nearly $1 billion. Bureau officials claim birds
will be protected, but don't say how. State and federal scientists are
incredulous. Again, this scheme is being proposed outside the CALFED

DWR, meanwhile, is promoting the water interests (both irrigation and
selling water) of big growers and water marketers in the Tulare Basin of the
southern San Joaquin Valley, including cotton billionaire J.G. Boswell and
Beverly Hills billionaire Stewart Resnick, who has been buying tens of
thousands of acres of farmland and jumped into water marketing.

In my view, California's water crisis will never be solved as long as these
two agencies -- who see their mission as providing all the water
agribusiness wants -- continue to call the shots. California has more than
two million acres of farmland planted with crops subsidized by American
taxpayers (cotton, rice, corn, grains), using water subsidized by California
taxpayers. Even the conservative Heritage Foundation decries this massive
waste of public funds and precious water.

Meanwhile, urban water system infrastructures throughout California continue
to decay. Underground drinking water pipelines and deteriorating wastewater
lines in Sacramento alone will cause $4 billion to repair. San Joaquin
Valley farm towns report recurring problems with drinking-water quality.

Will the governator take charge? After two years in office, he has yet to
give a speech on or show any interest in water issues. His staffers hint he
will mention water in his State of the State message early next year. A
mention isn't going to change anything.

With California's population estimated to reach 46 million in the next few
decades, water use clearly will shift away from agriculture to cities and
growth. The agricultural San Joaquin Valley, which is poorer than
Appalachia, is expected to add five million people by the year 2050. Who
will profit from this shift of water?

Thanks to state and federal laws passed in 1992, irrigation districts and
individual growers are now free to sell their cheap irrigation supplies at
retail market prices. In other words, growers can buy water from these two
agencies at $10 to $100 an acre-foot and sell it to Southern California
developers for $600 an acre-foot. 

Which is why smart growers know that water is the new cash crop.

What will become of the Little Hoover Commission report? What will become of
cries for repairing the Delta levees? Don't hold your breath. The public
generally doesn't care about water issues unless the water poisons them or
drowns them, as Katrina proved. Hard water decisions are the third rail of
California politics.

My guess? The report is likely to gather dust on a shelf until California's
version of Katrina hits.

Byron Leydecker

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

Advisor, California Trout, Inc

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 ph

415 383 9562 fx

bwl3 at comcast.net

bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org





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