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And Then There Is Reality!

What if the entire end game of the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) which appears to be to build a tunnel under the Delta is all about making water so expensive that farmers can't afford it?

Mar 13, 2012


Families Protecting The Valley Newsletter

MARCH 13 2012


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Board of Directors

Denis Prosperi
Chester Andrew
Bob Smittcamp
Russ Waymire
John "Dusty" Giacone
Joe Marchini
Mark Watte
Kole Upton
Piedad Ayala
Tom Barcellos
Jim Walls

And Then There Is Reality!

It's no secret that the political powers that be in San Francisco and Sacramento would like nothing more than to dry up water deliveries to the Central Valley. They have no regard whatsoever for the farming sector in the Valley that relies on Delta water. Every single political move over the past twenty years has been to take more and more water from this area whether it's shutting off the pumps in the Delta or taking irrigation water from farmers out of Millerton Lake. Sending it out to sea, in their opinions, is a better use for water than sending it to farms in the Central Valley.

What if the entire end game of the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) which appears to be to build a tunnel under the Delta is all about making water so expensive that farmers can't afford it? We know the leaders of Westlands Water District have invested millions into the BDCP
with the hope of getting a more reliable water supply to their farms on the West side. We know they are well aware of the cost projections for a tunnel that are ranging anywhere from $14 to $23-billion which could incur an annual debt service of over a billion a year. We know they must have put a pencil to it to guestimate how much per acre foot the water would cost. What will it be? Will farming make sense at the new higher prices?

What if the only entity able to afford water at those rates is the Metropolitan Water District? They can afford it because they have millions of customers where the costs can be spread to millions of water bills. What if farmers are forced to sell their water rights to MWD because they can't afford to farm any more? At that point we will really have a government-created dust bowl. What will happen to our Central Valley communtities without the Delta water that sustains the West side? Do you think George Miller and Barbara Boxer care?

For twenty years it has been death by a thousand cuts (or a thousand s of water if you prefer). Maybe the Delta tunnel is the final blow. We would suggest a warning to all from an old saying: Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.




Newton: Refighting California's water war

It now looks as if Gov. Jerry Brown intends to finish up this piece of unresolved business.

Jim Newton

When Gov. Jerry Brown wrapped up his tenure last time through, he left a huge unresolved question for California: In the wake of a failed 1982 initiative to fund the so-called peripheral canal, how would the state distribute and safeguard its water supply?

How to maximize the water supply and allocate it fairly has been debated often in the years since without producing a solution. But it now looks as if Brown intends to finish up this piece of unresolved business.

Earlier this month, state water officials presented him with the basics of a plan that would have profound implications for the future of California, as well as the legacy of its governor. If it is approved by the relevant state and federal agencies and overcomes any legal challenges, it would reroute water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, diverting freshwater around the marshy area that sits below sea level and transporting it, either by tunnel or canal, into the State Water Project, which serves parts of the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California. The plan calls for extensive habitat restoration as well.

That sounds simple enough, but even the hint of it resurrects an exceptionally divisive debate. In the early 1980s, Brown's proposal for a peripheral canal — which had much in common with the project now being proposed — split Californians along geographic lines. Wildly popular in Southern California, the idea was reviled in the north. I was in high school in Palo Alto when it first began to circulate; my friends and neighbors could not mention the proposal without deriding it as a Los Angeles "water grab." Some Northern Californians even advocated splitting the state in two.

Proposition 9, the bond measure that would have paid for the canal, went down to a narrow defeat that highlighted the tensions between north and south. Los Angeles County backed the measure by 61% to 39%; in Northern California, meanwhile, more than 90% of voters in many counties opposed it.

This time out, the regional dispute is far more muted — and for good reason. At its core, this is not an attempt to draw more water from north to south but rather to shore up a vulnerable system whose failure could cast the state into chaos.

Protecting that system is the central preoccupation of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and it has played a key role in shaping the $16-billion proposal, most of which it would pay for with increased rates to its customers. They won't like that, but the project is, in the words of Assistant General Manager Roger K. Patterson, an "insurance policy" protecting the state's water supply against an earthquake that could destroy the levees that keep seawater out of the delta. Such an earthquake could flood the delta and wipe it out as a source of freshwater within hours. Experts say it might take three years to restore supply, in the meantime depriving both Southern California and the Bay Area of almost a third of their water supply.

Patterson and his boss, General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger, laid out that scenario in a recent interview, surrounded by the history of this issue. We spoke in Kightlinger's office, its walls and tabletops covered with mementos of California's mind-boggling water system, much of it engineered by Brown's father, Gov. Pat Brown. As we spoke, Kightlinger offered water — tap water.

The implications for Northern California have helped prevent this debate so far from being a repeat of the north-south split that drove a wedge through the state in the early 1980s, but there's plenty of time for feuding to break out before this is over.

Kightlinger knows better than to take victory for granted in this debate. His predecessors were the villains of those water wars in the 1980s, and he concedes that even three or four years ago, the words "peripheral canal" could start a stormy debate. This time, though, he sees a chance: a more receptive electorate, a project paid by users rather than taxpayers and a governor with something to prove.

"People now are saying: 'We get it,'" Kightlinger explained. "Something has to be done."

And as for the governor? This project, as Kightlinger noted, began with "the father, and then the son, and now the son again." It's a chance to complete a bit of history.

Now if Brown would only take on the other unresolved piece of business dating back to his last time in office: What to do about Proposition 13.

Jim Newton’s column appears Mondays. His latest book is "Eisenhower: The White House Years." Reach him at jim.newton@latimes.com or follow him on Twitter: @newton_jim.

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