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Perhaps we need to sacrifice jobs & farmland In LA to bring Chinook salmon back to LA River
Dennis Wyatt 2022
Dennis Wyatt

Climate change clearly is the common battle cry in Sacramento.

Then why hasn’t California abandoned the high-cost absolute rock bottom minimum return to ensure the future of Chinook Salmon on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers?

Harboring that as a mere thought would constitute blasphemy in today’s climate change/political complex.

But if one is certain severe climate change is eminent, then concentrating on  chinook salmon preservation efforts where they have the better chance such as the Sacramento River is the logical thing to do.

It also would free up the water resources involved to address other climate change concerns such as adequate water to grow food, serve human needs, and protect the Delta.

Climate change — a concoction of mostly nature with a healthy dash of mankind’s tinkering — is making it harder for the Chinook salmon to survive as far south as they currently are now.

So why isn’t California pushing hard and heavy to restore Chinook salmon to the Loa Angeles River as they were with efforts to restore the flown on the San Joaquin River between Fresno and the confluence with the Merced River?

It might surprise you that Chinook salmon were once native to the Los Angeles River, which is 275 miles south of the southernmost of the three Northern San Joaquin Valley rivers where the state wants to decimate local farming and cities for a possible net gain  of 1,103 more Chinook salmon in any given year.
We need to talk about a holistic approach to climate change instead of the Chicken Little perceived crisis du jour that is dominating policy discussions.

It is an important conversation to have given how Los Angeles politicians and pundits are smooching up with the Death Star wing of the hard-core environmentalist movement to add a few more fish on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers while supposedly helping Delta salinity.

The state Department of Water Resources concluded in 2018 that increasing the unimpaired water flows on the three rivers by 300,000 acre feet of water a year might yield 1,103 more fish on an annual basis on the three rivers.

 The same research said those 1,103 additional fish would force 130,000 acres of croplands and orchards to go fallow. It would cost 4,000 jobs in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Merced counties with and overall regional economic loss of $12.9 billion.

And that is in a normal water year.

The salinity improvement under the plan to dump 360,000 more acre feet of water down the three rivers between February and June is real rich given that in normal water years that is not the time period when salinity is a concern.

Since the unimpaired water flow analysis was made, the state has set in place a new mandate that essentially will not allow more groundwater pumping in a given year than is replaced in an aquifer.

That would mean up to 132,000 acres in the nation’s most fertile agriculture valley would be fallow while cities in the 209 region would face significant cutbacks in surface water supplies.

Combine those two and that’s 492,000 acres of farmland going out of production forever.

To put that in perspective, San Joaquin County as the state’s seventh largest farm county that has a higher value in food output than 10  states would lose half of its productive ag land.

The impacts on the Northern San Joaquin Valley would increase significantly in a drought.

Based on historic hydrology on the Stanislaus River Basin, New Melones Reservoir — the state’s fourth largest at 2.4 million acre feet of water — could go dry 12 times every 95 years.

And what will California get for what the state essentially describes as an economic Armageddon for the Northern San Joaquin Valley? The state expects it will result in 1,103 more salmon combined annually on the three rivers. That translates into a price (based on economic loss) of $11,695,376.24 per additional salmon and exchanges 3.6 jobs for each new salmon.

That brings us to the original sin and how the water masters of the Los Angeles Basin populated with more than 10 million people work feverishly to guilt the rest of California into giving up water.

They like pushing the sentiment that we are all Californians.

You won’t get an argument from this corner about that being true.

Unless, that is,  if you are doing what the defenders of LA water colonialism are and twisting the sentiment’s meaning to argue the Northern San Joaquin Valley needs to willingly commit economic suicide as well as sacrifice the regional environment made possible today by how water has been managed and released for more than 110 years.

We are told it’s all about expanding native salmon and steelhead. Here’s a reality check.

 Salmon and steelhead are faring much better on the Stanislaus than they are on the Los Angeles River where — just like the Stanislaus — they can be legitimately be called a native species.

A funny thing happened to the Los Angeles River as boosters of LA growth took water from elsewhere in California to grow beyond the LA Basin’s natural water sources from the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers.

The salmon and steelhead were wiped out and the LA River was turned into a concrete-lined storm drain.

Los Angeles, according to a 1916 LA Department of Water & Power report, can only support 500,000 people if it relied on the two rivers and groundwater. The City of Los Angeles has 4.03 million people.

Cities and what farming remains in the LA Basin are not supported by its own watershed. That’s not the case in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

When it comes to water, the words LA boosters speak are about as deep and fleeting as a Tweet.

Instead of pounding their chests, they might want to take a hike. I have two spots they can go — Sam Mack Meadows on the way to the Palisades Glacier as well as Sonora Peak.

Sam Mack Meadows is at 11,040 feet in the eastern Sierra. It is where a stream originates that feeds into the North Fork of Big Pine Creek.

A hundred years ago, Big Pine Creek flowed into the Owens River where a nourished lush riparian habitat and ultimately ended up in Owens Lake that was a rich and unique ecological system jammed with birds. Along the way water was diverted into small irrigation canals that fed bountiful farm fields and orchards.

Today, most of the water bubbling over rocks at Sam Mack Meadows makes it way to water faucets in LA where it is used to hose down sidewalks, wash cars, and fill swimming pools, among other things.

The riparian ecological systems are anemic at best and while Owens Lake isn’t completely dead — it is on forced life support after the courts told LA Water & Power they had no  right to finish it off — it might as well be. Agriculture is holding on by a thread. LA controls all of the groundwater for its own benefit.

Sonora Peak soars to 11,464 feet. From its western slope is the farthest reach of the Stanislaus River water basin.

Snow melt from here travels through the Stanislaus National Forest providing life for fish and other creatures. As it works its way to the valley floor, the runoff nurtures orchards and farms as well as a rarity for a number of Sierra tributaries of the San Joaquin River decimated by state and federal government oversight: Water flows as well as fish can be found year round.

Much of that water used for agriculture seeps into the ground for use farther downstream for cities, rural residents, and other farmers that tap into underground streams. That is in stark contrast to the Owens Valley, where 95 percent of the private land — former farms for the most part — was bought by the LA Department of Water and Power so it could be harvested to feed and sustain LA’s unnatural growth.

What is at stake with the salinity plan in concert with the tunnel is reduced Sacramento River flows into the Delta.

That is placing a target on the proverbial backs of the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers.

Either the Northern San Joaquin Valley continues to thrive or it becomes a kissing cousin of the Owens Valley and Mono Lake Basin watersheds courtesy of state water policy ultimately dictated by a Los Angeles first doctrine.

 That doctrine would never consider cutting back water commandeered by LA and big corporate farms to expand unimpaired water flows for fish.

 No one is saying write off the Chinook salmon.

Instead, we need to address climate change with common sense and as a whole and not treat every aspect as if they are stand-alone silos.