A Halloween Horror for Valley Water Users

Monday, October 23, 2017

In this horror flick, we’re playing the part of Victim No. 1



At the climax of most horror movies, the mask gets ripped away and we see the face of the villain – Jason, Leatherface, Freddie Kruger, Jerry Brown.

We’re living our own slow-motion horror movie, in which the state has been plotting for years to steal the water that sustains our lives and a third of the Northern San Joaquin Valley’s economy. The plot is really boiling now, so let’s pull off some masks.

Governor Puppetmaster – Gov. Brown waited until 11:48 last Sunday night to veto Adam Gray’s Assembly Bill 313 – which would have inserted some fairness into resolving water disputes. As it is, the State Water Resources Control Board staff writes the rules, brings the charges then decides the cases. Disagree with their decision? Then the dispute moves to the board’s governor-appointed commissioners; no wonder it never loses.

The agency is cop, prosecutor, judge and appellate court. That’s fair in North Korea, not so much in Northern California.

Gray’s bill would have put appeals before a neutral third party before sending the decision back to the board. The board could still overrule it, but that might look, well, fishy.

Brown’s veto message conceded the process doesn’t appear fair, but he worried about costs, finding water experts, blah, blah.

What he’s really worried about is that an impartial arbiter might put obstacles in the way of the Water Board’s grab of vast amounts of our region’s water; and that might trip up his legacy-fulfilling California WaterFix.

Plundering Bureaucrats – The Water Board recently released its Phase II fact sheet, which was supposed to be about the California WaterFix’s impacts on the Sacramento River. By Page 4, its real subject was clear.

The report described salmon as being “deprived” of “cold water” they “need for survival” followed by dire warnings that this “sometimes fatal” issue will be exacerbated by climate change. To save the salmon, the state wants strong pulse flows, colder water, constant and vastly higher “inflows” to the Delta.

Where are these “inflows” flowing from? The Stanislaus, Merced and Tuolumne rivers.

But peer-reviewed studies done here show that to be effective, “pulse” flows should be smaller; that fish take migration cues from factors scientists don’t fully comprehend (like rain and turbidity). Sometimes scientists don’t know what they’re doing, killing more fish than they save.

Do state bureaucrats care? No, because it’s not really about fish.

The governor’s 40-foot-wide twin tunnels will send most of the much-colder and four-times larger Sacramento River under the Delta. With reduced “inflows” from the Sacramento, more of the far smaller, much-warmer San Joaquin River will be needed to keep the Delta from becoming pickle brine. And the only way to assure those “inflows” are cold is to take what’s deep behind our dams.

What’s left?

The Phase II fact sheet mentions reaching “voluntary” agreements. It confuses victims with volunteers.

Our irrigation districts are developing their own plans – which we hope will include higher flows and restoration of riverbeds and floodplains to help trout thrive. Trout?

Many scientists say salmon are already functionally extinct in our rivers. With Sierra runoff warming, is devoting higher flows to save salmon just whistling in the graveyard?