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San Francisco most certainly is helping to kill river salmon
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

Environmental Defense in February of 2005 noted 85 percent of the 260,000 acre-feet of water San Francisco takes from the Tuolumne River watershed is diverted at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

That's 221,000 acre-feet of water that enters 167 miles of pipe - the original Delta Tunnel Bypass - near the boundary of Yosmeite National Park to make its way to the water taps of 2.6 million customers in San Francisco and along the Peninsula.

It represents almost two thirds of the water - 350,000 acre-feet - that the state Department of Water Resources wants to grab to increase water flow into the Delta as part of a Bay-Delta strategy to reduce salinity and improve the chances of endangered salmon so more of them can reach the Delta to be eaten by non-native bass that support a multi-million politically connected bass fishing industry.

The state's water grab from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced watersheds by its own admission would fallow 240,000 acres in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties as well as triggering the loss of 6,700 jobs in one of the poorest regions of the state.

One would have to ask how this food would be replaced. No problem - import it from overseas using fossil fuel burning ships and airplanes to get it here which is contrary to Senate Bill 92 that takes a global view and demands the footprint of greenhouse gases be reduced significantly.

The reality is the state doesn't have to fallow 240,000 acres. All it has to do is mandate that the city of San Francisco be a steward of the Tuolumne River watershed and stop taking water out of the Tuolumne River at Hetch Hetchy. Instead it could be taken out after it reaches the Delta.

Of course, this wouldn't allow San Francisco to claim they have some of the world's purest drinking water, which is laughable considering how bottled water sales are off the hook in the city. What it would do is make sure the 260,000 acre-feet San Francisco uses doesn't shortchange fish.

In years of drought or court orders regarding fish flows, the Hetch Hetchy diversions have been untouched.

It's a tragedy that San Francisco only pays $30,000 a year for the privilege of destroying and flooding 1,200 acres in Yosemite National Park. When the first President Bush in 2004 proposed increasing the lease to $8 million a year with the additional revenue tackling a backlog of $500 million of pressing maintenance issues at Yosemite National Park, hardcore environmentalists such as Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi - who heralds from San Francisco - blocked it.

That underscores what is really at work here - situational water ethics in California that favors the rich and connected areas of the state over the interior.

Only 15 percent of the water that flows into the Delta comes from San Joaquin River tributaries such as the Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced rivers. Yet they are being targeted to address Delta salinity issues and not the water from the Sacramento River watershed that is sent south to Los Angeles to hose down driveways and to prop up the stock prices of large corporate farms on the west side of the Southern San Joaquin Valley.

You could make a solid argument that by prematurely taking 260,000 acre-feet of water out of the Tuolumne River watershed and "tunneling" it in a pipeline beneath Modesto to bypass the Delta that San Francisco has caused significant environmental damage to the river and the Delta. It is much like the high point diversion on the Owens River instead of taking water from Owens Lake. The resulting environmental damage was catastrophic with Owens Lake reduced to Dust Bowl status and farming devastated in the Owens Valley.
The city of San Francisco likes to note 2.6 million people depend upon their water including industries that make silicon chips and such.

But what about the cities of Ceres, Turlock, Modesto, Manteca, Tracy and Lathrop that get water from the three rivers that the state wants to commandeer water from those that hold senior adjudicated water rights?

The state's has identified two needs - one that science doesn't support to increase flows that are supposed to benefit fish and the other to keep salinity somehow in check once Sacramento River water is diverted from the Delta via the Twin Tunnels - so therefore the law be damned.

And let's be very clear on who is making the mess. The Public Policy Institute of California notes that, prior to the current drought, roughly 50 percent of all stored water is used for environmental purposes. That means releases from reservoirs - many built on the dime of farmers and the likes of PG&E - keep water flowing in rivers and some streams year round making it possible for fish to survive and people to recreate. Forty percent of the water is used to grow food for people to eat in places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Ceres, Turlock and Peoria, Illinois. The remaining 10 percent is for urban uses that includes swimming pools, ornamental fountains, keeping non-native grass lush, and for drinking.

The state and federal government essentially manage half of all stored water exclusively on behalf of fish, the river, and the Delta. They also manage much of the remaining 50 percent to benefit fish and rivers as well as the Delta before it reaches farms and cities.

If water for fish is screwed up a lot of blame lies with state bureaucrats.

With allies like the state, fish don't need enemies.

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