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Impaired fish flows & Delta tunnel: State’s plan to make drought devastating for Valley
Dennis Wyatt new mug
Dennis Wyatt

“We” — referring to those of us that live, work and play in the Northern San Joaquin Valley — supposedly don’t get it when it comes to the importance of the environment.

This nugget of wisdom was offered by pundits in reaction to how many of us in the 209 believe the myopic plan to ratchet up unimpaired flows from February to June on the Stanislaus, Merced and Tuolumne rivers will do fish little if any good while causing severe damage to farming, urban water users in the three counties, body slam the regional economy, and even hurt the environment miles away from the three previously mentioned rivers.

I’m not too sure what “we” don’t get.

I hike in the high Sierra, not the Hollywood Hills. I eat almonds grown in the San Joaquin Valley, not the San Fernando Valley. My neighbor fishes the Tuolumne River, not the Los Angeles River. The kids down the street raft down the Stanislaus River, not the Santa Ana River.

And if the self-proclaimed defenders of nature in Los Angeles are really concerned about protecting fragile river systems and precarious “natural” fish populations they might want to direct some of their indignity at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and demand unimpaired flows into Mono Lake and Owens Lake be ratcheted up as well.

There are few things in California that are as nature intended. Los Angeles circa 2022 is about as far away from the natural order of things as Van Halen is from being a Perry Como-style crooner.

If anyone thinks the Tuolumne and its sister rivers that flow through the 209 consists of fish that have lived 100 percent as intended by nature with no help from hatcheries they also probably think Mother Nature laid down concrete for steelhead to spawn in centuries ago on the Los Angeles River.

California is what it is — not what it was.

Ninety-six percent of the old growth coastal redwoods have been logged. They didn’t end up being used as lumber on Valley farms. Most of it went to build homes and such in coastal cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. Ninety-seven percent of the Valley’s riparian oak woodlands are gone. They were cleared not to feed those living on the land but the stomachs of those in urban centers.

Yes, we’ve killed off the California grizzly bear. But before saying some “gun nut” in Fresno County killed the last known California grizzly bear in 1922 let’s not forget they once roamed not more than a century or so in great numbers from what is now the Marina del Rey Beach to the foothills to the foothills east of Irvine in Orange County.

Much of the destruction of natural California was done for the express benefit of Los Angeles and San Francisco. It might surprise the folks who wash their cars with water diverted from the Sacramento River watershed or hose out garbage cans with water diverted from the creeks that feed Mono Lake that people in the Valley don’t want this region to become Los Angeles 2.0.

In fact the three watersheds they are so worried about when it comes to the welfare of fish — the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced — have been maintained as fairly decent habitats for fish because local irrigation districts have operated the rivers with respect and not with a rip-off of the “LA first strategy.”

The rivers and water basins LA has severely altered and created substantial ecological damage so growth that couldn’t be sustained by water sources within the LA Basin could continue at the expense of the rest of California.

By the way, “we” do get the fact that we are Californians. That doesn’t mean since we understand the diversity of this state’s various regions coming together is what makes us vibrant as a place to live and as an economy means we are willing to be abused for the common good as defined by Los Angeles.

The task at hand now is to fashion a balanced use of all developed water sources while finding new ways to conserve and manage water. Both Los Angeles and farmers have significantly reduced water consumption per capita and per acre over the past 30 years.

Right now, we are in the third year of an acute drought. The 2.4 million acre-foot New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus River is at 37 percent capacity and summer hasn’t even started.

Yet Southern California water interests are moving full speed ahead to deny the flow of substantial life giving water for the Delta ecological system before it is diverted by the pumps near Tracy into the California Aqueduct by pushing for the Delta tunnel bypass. The Delta tunnel will not create one more drop of water storage but it will protect LA from being impacted by environmental decisions involving water flows.

It is why they are such keen supporters of further sacrificing the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus watersheds so that — according to a state study justifying the move — in an average year 1,103 more Chinook salmon may survive in the three rivers combined while fallowing 132,000 plus acres of farmland and devastating the 209 regional economies while crimping local urban water supplies.

Those extra water flows from the three rivers will mask the damage to the Delta environment the tunnel diversions for the benefit of LA

We need to better manage what storage and conveyance systems we have in place now and not do so simply on a snapshot from February to June focused solely on one region of the state.

If we are in this together — which we are — then anyone that benefits from a drop of Stanislaus River water even it is indirectly to replace flows reduced because they have taken water from another watershed — should share in water cutbacks to help fish.

LA boosters have spent more than a century culling the herd so to speak to prey on politically weaker watersheds.

It’s time we act — when it comes to water — as if that there are 39.35 million Californians and not just the 19 million served by the Metropolitan Water District.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Courier or 209 Multimedia.