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Sacrificing the Delta to hose down SoCal sidewalks
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

The lifeblood of Delta farmers, towns, and fish drains into two series of pumps northwest of Tracy - one feeding the Delta-Mendota Canal and the other the 444-mile long California Aqueduct.

Nothing is natural about it.

The pumps use the equivalent power of 3,828,000 horses to pull water uphill so it can flow southward to fill swimming pools, water golf courses and lawns in the high desert, wash cars, and grow food among other things.

The water the pumps siphon up and send to taps in regions of the state that haven't even attained high single-digit water use reductions let alone the state mandated 25 to 32 percent is much cleaner than nature intended.

That's because 150 years ago farmers created hundreds of miles of levees that ended the vicious cycle of fresh water pushing salt water back in San Francisco Bay in the spring runoff and and then salt water reclaiming the Delta as far back as Mossdale.

Water was made even fresher when massive dams created reservoirs throughout the Sierra and Siskyous making it possible to store massive amounts of snow runoff to be released throughout the year to do what nature never did - keep fresh water flowing near Tracy where it is sucked up by the 17 massive pumps.

Moving water from Shasta Dam so it can flow out of the hoses of people washing down their driveways in Los Angeles wouldn't have been possible if farmers hadn't created the maze of levees to reclaim land to grow crops that ironically help feed the same people hosing down driveway with imported water from Northern California.

Given the low water table and how a large percentage of water that seeps into the ground away from plant and tree roots, much of the water used for farming is returned to the Delta and ultimately continues its journey either to the sea or to decorative fountains in the tony Hollywood Hills.

Gov. Jerry Brown wants to reward the descendants of those farmers whose foresight indirectly helped make Los Angeles and much of Southern California as it is today possible by destroying the Delta, its farms, and its ecological system.

The governor, between yelling at those who dare question the wisdom of jeopardizing what is left of a fragile ecological system by telling them to "shut up" and making sure the south state can continue to import north state water without cutting back a drop during severe droughts, likes to talk about how environmental friendly the Twin Tunnels plan is for the Delta.

It is why the latest version of the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan that he's rolled out slashes habitat restoration by two-thirds to only 30,000 acres. If it gets much friendly, it'll require investing in concrete to cement over Delta acreage.

The new plan doesn't address the two most obvious questions that weren't answered in the first version of the Twin Tunnels proposal of even the deep-sixed 1982 Peripheral Canal project for that matter.

• How is having the life giving Sacramento River water bypass the Delta a good thing for the fragile ecological system?

• How does the $15 billion project generate more water?

The reason those questions haven't been answered is because you can't gloss over naked truths with fancy words. You can call a Pinto a Rolls Royce on paper but it doesn't change the fact it's a Pinto.

The Peripheral Canal was all about taking more water by denying it to the Delta just like the Twin Tunnels.

Worse yet, court rulings in place as well as legislation aimed at protecting the Delta ecological system puts the San Joaquin River watershed on the hook for backfilling the diverted Sacramento River water when the obvious starts happening.

That's because water levels won't drop in the Delta due to the tidal pressures from the San Francisco Bay. But what they will do is get saltier - much saltier.

That will reduce farm crop yields and do damage to the ecological system.

The only other water they can take is from the San Joaquin River watershed that puts the entire Northern San Joaquin Valley in jeopardy whether it is farms, cities, or river systems.

All of this is so Los Angeles residents can take 10-minute showers.

If you want to see the long-term consequences of satisfying Los Angeles' thirst without question you don't even need to drive to the once vibrant Owens Lake. Just hop in the car and drive 175 miles east on Highway 120 until you come to Mono Lake. Before Los Angeles started diverting water that naturally flows into Mono Lake for its own use, the lake had an elevation of 6,417 feet in 1941. It had 55,000 acre-feet of water, none of its lake bed was exposed and a salinity ratio of 48 grams of salt per liter. After 41 years of Los Angeles diverting water away from Mono Lake, it had dropped 55 feet, shrunk to 48,000 acre-feet, had 17,300 acres of exposed lake bed and the salinity skyrocketed to 97 grams per liter.

Worse yet, receding water was creating a land bridge for predators to reach an island where 85 percent of California's seagulls nest. In reality, Mono Lake - one of the oldest in North America - has a diverse ecological system.

Los Angeles wouldn't have completely destroyed it if it wasn't stopped by the courts.

The Delta must not suffer the same fate.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.