Those who are the most politically correct among those that lecture the rest of the state from their perches atop the 40 plus hills of San Francisco about the environmental shortcomings of the rest of California should take a long hard look in the mirror.
They thrive on some of the original — and most hideous — environmental sins ever committed in the Golden State. Topping the laundry list running from filling in the bay to resisting tougher car emission testing for years because the winds cleared out their smog and sent it into the Central Valley is the desecration of a national park.
During the 1982 Peripheral Canal vote as well as any opportune occasion, the Bay Area powers sound like a Greek chorus acting as if Los Angeles has single-handedly destroyed California’s hinterlands in its never ending search for water to fuel and support growth. The sins of Los Angeles are indeed many. The manner in which they procured water rights and exploited it to bring growth and wealth to the LA Basin at the expense of the Owens Valley and even those on the Colorado River watershed is well-documented. While revisionists or those without an ax to grind now contend that the Owens Valley wasn’t ever the lush agricultural paradise that LA is blamed for wilting away in its never ending Machiavellian quest for water, one thing is for sure: LA is sucking a substantial amount of water each year from the Owens Valley to keep lawns lush that if it had stayed within the basin the fortunes of Inyo County would have been different today.
And regardless of apologists of the wanton acts performed by the Los Angeles Water and Power Department over the last century may claim, they can’t dismiss the fact LA destroyed the once lush Owens Lake that was part of the Pacific Flyway and came close to killing off Mono Lake that had survived for 760,000 plus years before a court order saved it.
Los Angeles also takes water from the Delta — lots of it.
Gavin Newsom’s myopic tunnel — the scaled down version of the double straws that Jerry Brown pushed to suck the lifeblood out of the Delta — guarantees LA’s import of water from out-of-basin will be less impacted by drought, fish flows, and court decrees than if it meandered its way to the pumps near Tracy before being dumped into the California Aqueduct.
Essentially it would do an Owens Valley Version 2.0 act on the Delta with the blessing of Newsom and the water thieves that enlist Sacramento bureaucrats and politicians to do their dirty work.
The water that flows to the pumps now helps keep salt water at bay both above and below the Delta. Divert what LA drinks from the northern Sierra and Cascade snowpack into a tunnel to bypass the Delta and the dynamics of the Delta ecological system changes as does the salt level in the wells that serve cities, farms, and homeowners around the Delta. Back in the droughts in the 1980s saltwater was detected in wells as far east as Jack Tone Road. Imagine if what water LA uses bypasses the Delta which in turn reduces natural recharge in the 1,000 miles of waterways that snake though the Delta what will happen to well water in Tracy, Lathrop and even farther east in Manteca and Ripon.
So how can San Francisco match that for pure environmental evilness?
It’s simple. San Francisco beat Los Angeles to the punch by a century.
There is already a tunnel that has water that bypasses the Delta. It’s called the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct. The 167-mile system is a large pipe that makes sure a good share of the Sierra watershed that drains into the Tuolumne River never enters the Delta in its journey to the City of San Francisco and other Bay Area municipalities.
The “tunnel” the City of San Francisco built is fed by the only dam ever allowed to be built in a national park — the O’Shaughnessy Reservoir. It also flooded the Hetch Hetchy Valley that rivaled Yosemite Valley with its stark ice carved granite walls and lush valley floor fed by stunning waterfalls.
San Francisco used the world’s second oldest profession to desecrate part of Yosemite National Park. Congress gave them a sweetheart of a deal as they pay $30,000 a year for the privilege of perpetually inflicting damage on the Hetch Hetchy Valley.
And while Los Angeles has atoned for some of its sinful behavior by spending tens of millions of dollars annually on dust control and restoration of Owens Lake as well as other work in the watershed they have forever alerted, all San Francisco does is write a $30,000 check every year. They don’t even fulfill the terms of their agreement to develop recreational use of the reservoir and surrounding areas. All watercraft — including non-motorized are banned by the city and not the National Park Service. It is also the only part of Yosemite that is daily locked to restrict public access.
The original tunnel bypass of the Delta cuts through Modesto and across the valley floor 10 miles south of Manteca. The City of San Francisco doesn’t contribute any water from their share of the Tuolumne watershed to existing flows for fish as the in-basin users along the same river as well as the Merced and Stanislaus rivers served by South San Joaquin Irrigation District, Oakdale Irrigation District, Modesto Irrigation District, Turlock Irrigation District, and Merced Irrigation District do.
Granted the state’s wild-eyed plan to try and flush the rivers with an unimpaired water flow tsunami to bump up the chinook salmon count on the Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers to produce 1,103 more fish a year based on the state’s modeling wile laying waste to upwards of 132,000 acres of farmland on the Northern san Joaquin Valley while also reducing water to cities in the 209 does include Hetch Hetchy water as part of proposed the state grab. But when all is said and done, San Francisco has never paid the price for decisions regarding fish flows.
They simply destroyed Hetch Hetchy for a mere pittance and built a city rivaling Los Angeles in wealth and growth on the backs of a water basin that was never met to serve them.
It’s amazing what engineering, political payoffs a century ago, wheel and dealing, $30,000, and enough hypocrisy to fill in what remains of the San Francisco Bay can buy you.
If San Francisco won’t right an serious ecological wrong and tear down the O’Shaughnessy Dam the very least they should do is fulfill the recreational promises they agreed to and increase the lease payment to market value with the expressed purpose the money paid be used to restore and preserve other parts of Yosemite National Park.
Los Angeles is helping restore the ecological system of the water basin they forever altered. The very least that San Francisco can do that boasts some of the highest concentration of environmentalists adhering to the PC wing of the ecological movement can do is make amends by helping protect and preserve the rest of Yosemite.
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.