Protecting our water rights
March 30, 2012
OPINION By JOHN SALISBURY
Up north, we long-time farmers have been hearing a great sucking sound south of us that is going to get a lot louder if the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act, authored by San Joaquin Valley representatives, that was passed by members of both parties in the U.S. House of Representatives (HR 1837) gets passed by the Senate.
This Central Valley, Westlands Water District, and SoCal cities backed water bill is another attempt to grab more water from the Sacramento Delta regardless of other people’s water rights, environment of the delta and the Bay area, fisheries, etc. It will preempt what we are trying to do in California to come up with a reasonable water plan and will let Washington decide what is best for us. These southern importers have been taking more and more water from the delta which was originally supposed to be water that was in surplus.
My family has water rights going back to 1850 that are now in jeopardy so that land where even a Jack rabbit would need a canteen can be farmed. They were drawn to the delta (Walnut Grove) from the east coast, with a stop in Ohio, because of the fertile soil and availability of water.
They, along with other farmers helped build their own levees and we, the descendants, are still responsible for the upkeep through reclamation districts. After the Central Pacific Railroad was built over the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the middle of Utah, many of the Chinese railroad workers settled in the delta and helped build up the levees to form the delta with its many islands and 1,000 miles of waterways.
Another part of the water grab is the state’s proposed pipeline from north of the delta around to the pumps near Tracy that the Brown administration seems to be pushing. Two 33 foot tunnels (over 3 stories tall) will go through and under (150 feet) the delta for miles destroying farmland, houses, and the stability of the levees in its’ wake at a cost that no one can predict.
Estimates range between $12 to $54 billion – how is that for a spread! The cost will be passed onto rate payers and state tax payers via a water bond initiative, maybe in 2014, many of whom (many central coast residents) would not benefit from the divergence.
At a recent hearing for a cost-benefit analysis (AB550) plus an up or down Assembly vote was killed by the testimony of many lobbyists for water contractors because they don’t want the cost to be known. I don’t even know how the farmers who will be getting this water that would bypass the delta will be able to afford it.
Over 100,000 acres of land in the central valley that had been irrigated with delta water have already been abandoned because of the severe salinity in the ground and this ground will never grow crops again.
There was a plan at one time not long ago, which was fortunately shot down, to pipe some of this selenium tainted water to our coast nearby to be dumped into the ocean.
What is at risk is that we may be trading fertile sustainably farmed delta farmland for more sub-standard ground that can only be used until the salinity becomes too much. Because the only thing that keeps the salty Pacific Ocean from coming up into the delta is enough force from the fresh water going south. Take that away, especially in drought years which happens a third of the time, and we will be forced to irrigate our crops with brackish water. Once on the soil, salt is hard to get rid of not unlike the stories in the Bible and of the Romans where the ground of the defeated were supposedly salted so crops could not be grown.
Don’t get me wrong, the bulk of the land in the south valley is great for growing crops. The big change is the conversion from row crops (cotton, processing tomatoes, grains, etc.) to permanent tree crops (grapes, almonds, pistachios, pomegranates, citrus, etc.) with most on drip irrigation which helps.
However, these growers are taking a big chance that the water is going to be there and need to make decisions in short water years as to what to irrigate. Obviously, the trees are going to get the water first and many row crops most likely not planted especially since the delivery forecast is only predicted to be 30 percent of normal this year because of the dry winter.
There is a lot of excess water going out the Golden Gate in wet winters that should be figured into the answer. This water should be captured with reservoirs like the proposed Sites Reservoir near Maxwell.
This same concept could also be beneficial with smaller lakes and ponds which could also be used for recreation, with the fisheries considered, throughout the northern and central watersheds that flow from the mountains to the sea. These water holding basins could be held in reserve for supplementing the flow south, especially in drought years, not unlike the federal oil depositories so long as the Delta is assured of its necessary water quality.
We have to encourage the new irrigation and conservation techniques that are drastically changing in both in agriculture and in cities. More use of drip irrigation (rural and non-rural), less water gulping landscapes especially in Southern California, more desalination plants when economical along the coast, ground water infusion, plus many other smaller changes that add up.
Drives me crazy when I stay at a motel or with relatives down south and they don’t even have low-flow shower heads or toilets and then driving around town and seeing way too much wasteful landscape irrigation running down the street at all hours!
Agriculture throughout the state needs water, cities need water and with some smart water management of our resources, water saving techniques, money spent on long term storage projects and levee repair, and personal responsibility, there could be enough water for all to share. If we could only take the politics, money and greed out of the decision making, we could have a sound statewide water policy.
“Water is life’s matter, matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water”. – Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Hungarian Biochemist