Mike Dunbar

Make state’s water grab personal. Put your face on it

Mike Dunbar: Want our water? Fix the Delta first

The Modesto Bee's editorial page editor, who once lived aboard 38-foot sail boat in the Delta, discusses what it really take to fix the largest estuary on the West Coast of the United States. And it's not more water from the San Joaquin River.
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The Modesto Bee's editorial page editor, who once lived aboard 38-foot sail boat in the Delta, discusses what it really take to fix the largest estuary on the West Coast of the United States. And it's not more water from the San Joaquin River.

Sometimes, the best way to explain a complicated subject is face to face – even when that face is on a video screen.

Most of us know the value of the water flowing through our communities. But to people living on the coast, people here are portrayed as a bunch of greedy water wasters trying to kill sickly salmon. We need to correct that image, and your short videos could help.

The State Water Resources Control Board released the final update of its plan to send more of the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The state wants 40 percent, sometimes 50 percent, of each river. As the water flows away, so do thousands of acres of crops and thousands more jobs.

“It’s not just a farm issue,” said Wayne Zipser, head of the Stanislaus Farm Bureau. “It’s about the overall health and welfare of our entire community.”

The Modesto Bee's editorial page editor, who once lived aboard 38-foot sail boat in the Delta, discusses what it really take to fix the largest estuary on the West Coast of the United States. And it's not more water from the San Joaquin River.

But not just our communities. The Bay Area will suffer, too. After all, much of their water comes from the Tuolumne River. As we are forced to give up more, so will 24 Bay Area cities.

“The Bay Area is totally comatose to the threat to their water supply,” said John Mensinger, a Modesto Irrigation District board member. We need to awaken them to that threat.

How? San Francisco is one of the finest food cities in the world. Bay Area foodies flock to farmers markets in the Ferry Building, in the Castro, at Bay Shore, in the Mission District, the Filmore, Noe Valley and more. There are 10 weekly farmers markets in Berkeley, another dozen in San Jose.

Many of the farmers at those markets drive from Modesto, Escalon, Ceres, Livingston, Merced and Turlock. They should be carrying our message with them.

If everyone shot a 60-second video telling their story, that would make a powerful statement. Each could set up a monitor in their space and hook it to an iPad or laptop; videos could run continuously or in a loop with others.

Make it personal. Talk about what it means to be raised beside these rivers. Explain that we drink from them, play in them and baptize our children in their waters. Yes, we use the rivers to grow food for our families, but also for their families and families around the world.

Tell them what we’re doing to save our rivers and improve chances for salmon. Explain that thousands of juvenile salmon leave our rivers only to be eaten by Delta bass.

Mention that Bay Area residents will lose as much as we will – they just don’t yet know it yet.

Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts share the Tuolumne River with San Francisco, which taps the river’s headwaters in Yosemite. That water is used by 1.7 million people and 40,000 businesses.

While losses in Merced, Stanislaus and southern San Joaquin counties are likely to top $1 billion each year, far more will be lost when San Francisco is forced to give up a significant portion of its Tuolumne flows.

Some might ask why the state is doing this terrible thing. We can explain that regulators insist more water is needed to save salmon and to keep salt from ruining the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. So tell them about the peer-reviewed studies showing salmon prefer lighter flows, not the proposed massive floods; tell them we’ve already made excellent strides in helping more salmon survive – and we’re doing more each year.

And no amount of water from our rivers can make up for the billions of gallons the state is planning to suck away from the Delta through its twin tunnels, pulling in more salt.

Explain that the Delta is broken, its water being pumped south never to carry fish to the ocean.

Such videos won’t sway board members, their minds are made up. But if enough videos show up in the Bay Area or on YouTube, it could have an impact.

And expect an argument. Environmental groups based in the Bay Area are demanding 60 percent flows; their perspective has gone unchallenged for decades. People living there deserve to know there’s another side.

There’s nothing phony or disingenuous about stories like ours. It’s the truth.

People buying food grown here might actually enjoy learning more about people from our Valley. After all, we’re neighbors.

We’re never going to convince Felicia Marcus and three other members of the board. But we might convince people from San Francisco, San Jose and Berkeley. And they might send a signal that we’re not alone in fighting this cruel abuse of power.

We’ve got a good story to tell, we just need to make certain it is seen and heard.

To submit your video, upload it to your Facebook or YouTube page, then allow access and send a link to the video to Mike Dunbar at mdunbar.modbee.com. By sending us the link, you are allowing us the right to upload and publish with our video player and to publish on our website and those of McClatchy.

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