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Twin Tunnels: LA prospers, Fortune 500 farmers thrive & SJ County dies

POSTED November 12, 2013 7:29 p.m.

Los Angeles, in its present form, should not exist.
Neither should much of the Bay Area or most of the San Joaquin Valley.
The planet’s most productive farm region and arguably two of the world’s top metro areas exist because of a bunch of concrete and piled up dirt.
The Delta left in its natural state would go from massive floodplain to trickles of water flowing to the sea with the change of the seasons. It’s transformation by the compacting of dirt as levees helped create fertile farmland that made the state wealthier beyond any gold mined from the Sierra.
The Central Valley Project and State Water Project of the 20th century expanded on the levee system with concrete and more dirt to create dams, canals, and aqueducts. It further enhanced farming and fueled urban growth on the coast.
If California had developed as nature intended, the great urban centers of the state would be along the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers accented with farming while the coast would have developed more like Baja California. Cities need water as does farming and nature itself.
Never before in the history of civilization has so much water been transferred so far to make major transformations of regions ranging from Mediterranean to arid. Nor has water development anywhere else created such Byzantine style politics
And as maddening as California’s key plumbing may seem, it works.
The Twin Tunnels plan taps into that plumbing to bypass the Delta. In doing so water that had multiple purposes will only have two — to fuel more growth in the Los Angeles region and keep massive corporate farms owned by Fortune 500 companies in the southern San Joaquin whole.
The water that now flows through Los Angeles faucets fills swimming pools in Beverly Hills, and hoses down sidewalks in Anaheim supports fish and other wildlife in the Delta before it flows into the pumps at Tracy for its southward journey.
We are told not to worry. The fish will survive. Perhaps the fish will but we won’t.
The diverting of water into Twin Tunnels would eliminate 87 percent of the farmland in San Joaquin County alone based on studies associated with the project. 
But the price San Joaquin County and the northern region of the San Joaquin Valley ultimately will pay will be much greater.
That because of court orders coupled with state and federal mandates requiring minimum flows at various points in and around the Delta to protect fish, the environment, and keep salinity in check.
When a large part of the Sacramento River no longer flows to support fish and wildlife or keep salinity at bay by meandering through the Delta to the Tracy pumps, that leaves only one other source of water to meet the mandates — the watershed of the mid-Sierra.
And since San Francisco put in the original Peripheral Tunnel 90 years ago under the valley floor to divert Tuolumne River water around the Delta on its way to Bay Area toilets, the Hetch Hetchy reservoir won’t be part of any required future solution to prevent the Delta struggling without Sacramento River water from turning into a gigantic salt-laced cesspool.
The Twin Tunnels environmental report very nicely glosses over the long-term ramifications for San Joaquin County and the rest of the region that relies on the mid-Sierra watershed.
Proponents really had no choice. To include such an examination would essentially kill the Tunnel project based on what can’t be avoided — taking water from somewhere else to avoid turning the Delta into an environmental disaster that would make the Love Canal seem like a mineral spa in comparison.
There are less damaging and less expensive solutions that would be at least as effective. One involves creating several short tunnels near the Tracy pumps plus the flooding of several Delta islands. But that wouldn’t create 20,000 short-term specialized heavy construction jobs that has gotten big engineering firms and big labor onboard the Twin Tunnel bandwagon. Another involves strengthening of the levees, which has to be done anyway.  A levee strengthening strategy would require creating “off-line” storage south of the Tracy pumps.
So why is LA and corporate farmers so thirsty for the Twin Tunnels if they are much more expensive and not any more effective than lower cost solutions?
First and foremost they want their water untouchable when it comes to drought-related cutbacks or federal and court mandates for Delta flows. It is essentially the sweetheart arrangement that San Francisco got for its Tuolumne River water by bypassing the Delta. The Bay Area has never had its allotment of water from the watershed reduced by government or court decree during any drought to address Delta needs or to try and equally distribute an essential commodity during an extended dry spell.
By putting the water in the tunnels, it eliminates any co-mingling with other fresh water sources that aren’t a clean as the Sacramento River watershed.  That, in turn, reduces treatment costs for Southern California cities.
In a nutshell, Los Angeles will spend less money treating water nor would they be subject to massive cutbacks of their allotment during droughts.
Buy into the Twin Tunnels and you will essentially invite the biggest Trojan Horse ever concocted into your own backyard.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

 

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