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Making 209 residents pay $11,695,376 per salmon while fueling L.A. growth
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

We are all one California.

Before we get all teary-eyed about that sentiment that has been voiced by backers of the State Water Resources Control Board advancing state water policies that largely hinge on commandeering out-of-watershed water to keep powering Los Angeles’ unnatural expansion growing.

This time around they are working to swoop in and add the raping of the San Joaquin Valley to the Owens Valley-style graveyards created so La-La Land can prosper.

It is time we talk about the original sin.

It is an important conversation to have given how Los Angeles politicians and pundits are smooching up with the Death Star wing of the hard-core environmentalist movement to add a few more fish on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers while supposedly helping Delta salinity.

The salinity improvement under the plan to dump 360,000 more acre-feet of water down the three rivers between February and June is real rich given that in normal water years that is not the time period when salinity is a concern.

 During normal water years the water plan— based on data provided by the state itself— would cost the three counties of the Northern San Joaquin Valley (San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Merced) — an annual economic loss of $12.9 billion, cost 4,000 people their jobs, and force increased groundwater pumping of 1.57 million acre-feet annually by cities and farmers. Since the unimpaired water flow analysis was made, the state has set in place a new mandate that essentially will not allow more groundwater pumping in a given year than is replaced in an aquifer. That would mean up to 132,000 acres in the nation’s most fertile agriculture Valley would be fallow while cities in the 209 region would face significant cutbacks in surface water supplies.

The impacts on the Northern San Joaquin Valley would increase significantly in a drought.

Based on historic hydrology on the Stanislaus River Basin, New Melones Reservoir — the state’s fourth largest at 2.4 million acre-feet of water — could go dry 12 times every 95 years.

And what will California get for what the state essentially describes as an economic Armageddon for the northern San Joaquin Valley? The state expects it will result in 1,103 more salmon combined annually on the three rivers. That translates into a price (based on economic loss) of $11,695,376.24 per additional salmon and exchanges 3.6 jobs for each new salmon.

That brings us to the original sin and how the water masters of the Los Angeles Basin populated with more than 10 million people work feverishly to guilt the rest of California to giving up water.

They like pushing the sentiment that we are all Californians. You won’t get an argument from this corner about that being true unless you are doing what the defenders of LA water colonialism are and twisting its meaning to argue the northern San Joaquin Valley needs to willingly commit economic suicide as well as sacrifice the regional environment made possible today by how water has been managed and released for more than 100 years.

We are told it’s all about expanding native salmon and steelhead. Here’s a reality check. Salmon and steelhead are faring much better on the Stanislaus than they are on the Los Angeles River where — just like the Stanislaus — they can be legitimately be called a native species.

A funny thing happened to the Los Angeles River as boosters of LA growth took water from elsewhere in California to grow beyond the LA Basin’s natural water sources from the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers. The salmon and steelhead were wiped out and the LA River was turned into a concrete lined storm drain. Los Angeles, according to a 1916 LA Department of Water & Power report, can only support 500,000 people if it relied on the two rivers and groundwater. The City of Los Angeles has 4.03 million people.

Cities and what farming remains in the LA Basin are not supported by its own watershed. That’s not the case in the northern San Joaquin Valley.

Lecturing northern San Joaquin Valley on its development patterns, farming, and track record of protecting the environment is akin to the Cincinnati Bengals lecturing the San Francisco 49ers about how to win in the NFL.

When it comes to water the words LA boosters speak are about as deep as a Tweet.

Instead of pounding their chests, they might want to take a hike. I have two spots they can go — Sam Mack Meadows on the way to the Palisades Glacier as well as Sonora Peak.

Sam Mack Meadows is at 11,040 feet in the eastern Sierra. It is where a stream originates that feeds into the North Fork of Big Pine Creek. A hundred years ago Big Pine Creek flowed into the Owens River where a nourished lush riparian habitat and ultimately ended up in Owens Lake that was a rich and unique ecological system jammed with birds. Along the way water was diverted into small irrigation canals that feed bountiful farm fields and orchards.

Today most of the water bubbling over rocks at Sam Mack Meadows makes it way to water faucets in L.A. where it is used to hose down sidewalks, wash cars, and fill swimming pools among other things. The riparian ecological systems are anemic at best and while Owens Lake isn’t completely dead — it is on forced life support after the courts told L.A. Water & Power they had not right to finish it off — it might as well be. Agriculture is holding on by a thread. L.A. controls all of the groundwater for its own benefit.

Sonora Peak soars to 11,464 feet. From its western slope is the farthest reach of the Stanislaus River water basin. Snow melt from here travels through the Stanislaus National Forest providing life for fish and other creatures. As it works its way to the Valley floor, the runoff nurtures orchards and farms as well as a rarity for a number of Sierra tributaries of the San Joaquin River decimated by state and federal government oversight: Water flows as well as fish can be found year round.

Much of that water used for agriculture seeps into the ground for use farther downstream for cities, rural residents, and other farmers that tap into underground streams. That is in stark contrast to the Owens Valley where 95 percent of the private land — former farms for the most part — was bought by the L.A. Department of Water and Power so it could be harvested to feed and sustain L.A.’s unnatural growth.

What is at stake with increased unimpaired flows Sacramento is pushing on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers is crystal clear.

Either the northern San Joaquin Valley continues to thrive or it becomes a kissing cousin of the Owens Valley and Mono Lake Basin watersheds courtesy of state water policy ultimately dictated by the by a Los Angeles first doctrine. That doctrine would never consider cutting back water commandeered by L.A. and big corporate farms to expand unimpaired water flows for fish.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.