[env-trinity] SF Chronicle 7 27 10
bwl3 at comcast.net
Wed Jul 28 10:16:17 PDT 2010
State report's recipe for a restored delta: More water
By Zeke Grader
Zeke Grader is Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of
Experience has taught me to live by the old Russian proverb, "Hope for the
best but expect the worst." This is a particularly sound strategy for
politics, where ideal outcomes are seldom realized.
Sometimes, though, I'm pleasantly surprised -- something good emerges from
unexpected quarters. That's the case with a recent science-based report from
the staff of the State Water Board that identifies the real culprit in the
collapse of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta: excessive exports of fresh
For decades, California's water barons - mainly corporate agriculture
operators in the western San Joaquin Valley - have called the shots in the
state capitol, and the water has flowed to them in lavish amounts.
Farmers from other regions, urban residents, California salmon and the
people who depend on salmon for their livelihoods have all suffered from
this grossly inequitable distribution. Most pointedly, the Sacramento/San
Joaquin Delta - in conjunction with San Francisco Bay, the biggest and
richest estuary on the west coast of the Americas - is teetering on collapse
because of fresh water diversions to "Westside" agribusiness bigwigs.
So the Water Board's report was deeply appreciated (indeed it was somewhat
unexpected given two earlier flow recommendations made by the board during
the past two decades were suppressed at the behest of Westside growers). It
provides some hope for our devastated Bay-Delta estuary, struggling Delta
farmers, our beleaguered salmon and the impoverished fishing communities
along the North Coast.
For years, Big Ag has tried to obfuscate the issue with pie charts and
graphs that "show" the Delta's collapse is pegged to invasive species, urban
run-off, leaky sewage pipes - everything except water exports. The State
Water Board's report rebuts this duplicitous drivel clearly and simply:
Delta restoration will require 75 percent of the water that typically flows
down the Sacramento River and San Joaquin River watersheds. This will mean
reducing water exports by half.
Big Ag already is squawking, deeming the report a "theoretical exercise"
that has no bearing in the real world. Such strictures, they claim, would
devastate family farms. To that I say -- well, horse manure.
Most "farms" of the western San Joaquin are massive agribusiness complexes
that churn out megatons of federally-subsidized crops with subsidized water.
Years ago, a friend of mine observed that "the welfare queens have nothing
on the cotton kings" when it comes to swilling at the public trough. It was
true then, and it's true now. Water use in the western San Joaquin Valley is
extravagant - to a large degree, unregulated. Improving water use efficiency
and employing better crop strategies would allow agribusiness to accommodate
itself to the new and necessary reality.
On the other hand, there are family farms in the Delta - small holdings
passed from generation to generation. They have been decimated by the
relentless exporting of their water to the imperious barons of the
Southland. And the same is true for our salmon fishermen.
They have been ruined by years of fishing closures. And these closures, it
must be noted, were driven by low salmon numbers caused by - you guessed it
- water diversions. North Coast communities that were prosperous with
family-wage fishing jobs a decade ago now struggle to hold on to even
minimum-wage jobs - all so the water barons can continue to pump cash into
their already engorged coffers.
Finally, we need to scotch the Big Lie that Big Ag and their minions are
spreading about the likely impacts of the Water Board report. They're
already saying California cities will face apocalyptic water shortages if
flows to the south state are reduced. I have to admire their gall even while
I despise their reflexive mendacity. California's cities account for only 20
percent of the state's water use.
Moreover, our cities have led the way in improving water use efficiency and
developing sustainable sources for water, including wastewater recycling,
desalinization plants - even cisterns. California's agribusiness colossus,
on the other hand, accounts for 80 percent of state water use and has done
relatively little to improve use efficiency, instead expending its energy
and funds on relentless lobbying in Sacramento and Washington.
Where do we go from here? The Water Board has stepped up and done the right
thing, and we must back them up. One thing we can do is return the Kern
Water Bank to public ownership.
This massive water bank was developed with public funds. But after an
abstruse sweetheart deal, it ended up in the hands of Beverly Hills
billionaire and Central Valley corporate farmer Stuart Resnick. With the
Kern Water Bank reclaimed as a public asset, we will have made a big step
toward the fair and responsible management of state water.
We should also demand that the state's junior water rights holders -
including giant Westside farming entities such as the Westlands Water
District - take their rightful place in line for water. By legal precedent,
they should be the first to endure cuts in water deliveries.
Taxpayers subsidize water deliveries to Westlands. Meanwhile, their biggest
crop - tomatoes - is a glut on the market. Seventy-five percent of their
second-biggest crop - almonds - is shipped overseas and the biggest chunk
goes to China. I would like to note parenthetically that there is no surplus
of wild salmon. It is in high demand in domestic markets, selling for around
$20 a pound.
Adding injury to insult, the irrigation of Westland's selenium-rich lands
has led to the contamination of state waterways. Selenium is a dire threat
to wildlife and fisheries, and Westlands is the primary engine for its
dissemination in Delta waters. It's bad enough that Westlands is making
obscene profits at taxpayer expense - but it's an outrage that we're paying
them to poison us.
Byron Leydecker, JcT
Chair, Friends of Trinity River
PO Box 2327
Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327
415 383 4810 land/fax
415 519 4810 mobile
<mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net
<mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
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