Want to see the future of the Delta?
Take Highway 99 to the Standiford Avenue exit in Modesto. Turn right onto Sisk Road and then into the parking lot of the shopping center on the left. Then get out of your car and walk south for a few dozen yards.
You will soon come across a river flowing water at an average of 2,213 cubic feet per second. That compares to the San Joaquin River average of 5,100 cubic feet per second at Vernalis southwest of Manteca.
But unlike the San Joaquin River you can’t use a fishing pole. Nor do you need a swimsuit. In fact, you can cross this raging river without worrying about drowning or even getting your feet wet. It flows below the paved walking trail that covers three miles.
It is part of the original Delta Tunnel — the Hetch Hetchy pipeline that stretches 167 miles from Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park to the San Francisco Bay Area.
It is water that once flowed through the Delta to cleanse its waters and protect fish such as the Delta Smelt before being removed for domestic purposes.
Some 360,000 acre feet of water a year flows through the Hetch Hetchy pipeline beneath Modesto. San Francisco — the home of a repertoire of pious environmentalist groups — has been contributing to the degradation of the Delta since the 1920s. The water from the Tuolumne River watershed once flowed through the Delta. It could very easily have been allowed to flow naturally down the Tuolumne, combine with the San Joaquin River and then be taken out of the Delta for use by San Francisco and 19 other Bay Area cities. But San Francisco in the 1920s wasn’t concerned about the environment. They just wanted water. They also didn’t want to run the risk of water ownership being called into question in the future nor did they want to worry about having to clean it after it flowed through the Delta.
And, as an added bonus, they have been able to avoid having the Tuolumne River water they commandeered by getting a sweetheart deal with Congress to flood a pristine canyon in a national park factored into any drought strategy that requires other water users on the San Joaquin River tributaries to cutback to protect fish.
If this sounds eerily familiar it’s because it is. What motivated San Francisco nearly a century ago to bypass the Delta with a pipeline are the same goals being pursued by Los Angeles, corporate farms, and other Bay Area water interests in pushing for the latest resurrection of the Peripheral Canal known as the Twin Tunnels.
Perhaps the City of Los Angeles will do what the hometown of the Sierra Club did and place a paved walking path over part of the twin tunnels to show they care about the people they are basically stealing water from. If you can’t grow food to make a living or sustain a valley city at least you can have a graffiti marred three-mile walking path that the City of San Francisco made possible for Modesto.
It’s ironic as the water that could have helped protect the Delta Smelt was obtained by flooding the very valley that Sierra Club founder John Muir fought so valiantly to save from destruction.
San Francisco acts pious when it comes to water. They point to Los Angeles that made questionable water right deals and used deceptions to strip the Owens Valley of its water to satisfy its unquenchable thirst. San Francisco did it the old-fashioned way by cutting a sweetheart deal with Congress to desecrate a national park while paying an annual rent fee to the federal government that has been unchanged since 1913. That’s despite studies that show a $34 million annual payment would still be below the fair market price today.
Now rules imposed through the effort of environmental groups financed by Pacific Heights millionaires in San Francisco benefitting from water taken from Hetch Hetchy Valley regarding the Delta Smelt and Tracy pumps have created the current water crisis.
There were 300 Delta Smelt caught in the pumps earlier this year. It resulted in a court order the environmental groups got to force the dumping of 800,000 acre feet of water into the San Francisco Bay this past spring.
It was enough to support 800,000 families for a year, irrigate 220,000 acres and grow 20 million tons of grapes. It would have created thousands of Central Valley farm jobs.
Everyone else that uses water that passes through the Delta has had to cutback but not San Francisco. That’s because of their “tunnel” which is what a pipeline basically is. If the Twin Tunnels go through Los Angeles and big corporate, farmers will be immune from water cutbacks in times of drought or high fish kills. That leaves the impoverished counties of the San Joaquin River tributaries watershed and the Delta to bear the brunt of the cutbacks which will be even higher than they are now.
The Twin Tunnels will complete the job San Francisco started and finish off the Delta as well as severely hurt the San Joaquin Valley.
But at least we might get a couple of miles of paved walking paths out of the deal.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 249-3519.