[env-trinity] Chico ER Editorial: There’s a clear difference when it comes to water’s value

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Fri Feb 2 14:55:32 PST 2018

Editorial: There’s a clear difference when it comes to water’s value

Last week’s meeting in Chico to take public comment on an initiative to maximize water deliveries from the federal Central Valley Project pointed out a fundamental difference between the two sides of the issue.The meeting was called for a limited objective: to take input on what topics an environmental review should look at.While some speakers were on task and gave the Bureau of Reclamation some specific issues that needed to be addressed, most spoke instead of the need to protect the north state’s living rivers.And there’s the difference. South of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the concept of a living river is unfamiliar and suspect.In the Los Angeles basin, rivers run through concrete channels.The Kern, Tule and Kaweah rivers used to fill Tulare Lake, the largest freshwater lake by surface west of the Mississippi. Their waters don’t make it past the farms and cities along Highway 99 anymore. The lake bed is dry, dependent on even more distant water or water pumped from deeper and deeper in the ground to grow crops.Parts of the Kings and the San Joaquin rivers ran dry every year because the water was also diverted to the Highway 99 corridor. The Kings still does dry up, but a restoration project has restored some flow to the San Joaquin, once the second largest river in the state. This year, spring-run chinook salmon spawned in the river, for the first time in 60 years.The fact that the restoration is controversial is telling. The idea that a river might have a value beyond the price per acre-foot of the water in it is missing south of the delta. They have no examples to learn from. In the south a river is just a somewhat unruly canal useful for transporting water and nothing more.That was what the Bureau of Reclamation might have learned from the Chico meeting last week. Most of the speakers testified with love and affection for our rivers as communities of fish and plants, birds and animals, drawn together and dependent on the water flowing by.Speakers here were concerned for the rivers’ health, as measured by declines in fish populations and other indicators. South of the delta the idea a river might have “health” would have been mystifying. It is, after all, just a bunch of water.And there’s the difference. We have one side that sees water as a commodity, and one side that sees it as so much more. In the north we see water, flowing through rivers and streams, as the lifeblood of living ecosystems assembled by some higher power hundreds of thousands of years before mankind wandered in and muddled things up.We are in awe, appreciative of something more valuable than all the money in the world. To the south, if you can’t put a price on it, it’s not worth a thing.There’s the choice the Bureau of Reclamation faces.

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