Mike Dunbar

Mike Dunbar: Would you like some facts, or do you prefer to remain all wet?

Irrigation water flows down an MID canal about 3 miles from the Tuolumne River.
Irrigation water flows down an MID canal about 3 miles from the Tuolumne River. The Modesto Bee

Dear Editor of The Los Angeles Times,

We know opinion journalists often draw different conclusions from the same facts. But we have some problems with both the conclusions you’ve drawn and the “facts” you cited in your editorial, “Letting California’s rivers run isn’t a ‘water grab’.

After chiding San Francisco over insufficient environmental karma, you turned your pious gaze on us Valley yokels. You chastised us for being unwilling to save the rivers that have nourished us – and you, through our vegetables, melons, wines, nuts, cheese, tree fruit, etc. You portrayed us as part of a villainous “agribusiness,” perhaps not realizing the average farm size in Stanislaus County is 175 acres, and three quarters of all farms here are under 100 acres. For that matter, why is “big ag” any greedier than big movies, big bio-tech or big banking, some of your big industries?

Relying on your great knowledge of farming economics, you advised us to grow “less thirsty” crops – a cheap shot at all the almonds we grow. Did you realize that two crops of corn (the norm) requires more water than a single crop of almonds? That it takes eight times more water (1,800 gallons) to produce your $100 jeans than it does to fill a bag of almonds of the same weight?

Then you blame diversions from the Tuolumne for crippling “the state’s once great ocean fishing fleets and seafood processors.” That’s my favorite. Usually, your writers accompany such statements by citing a study that said commercial salmon fishing was a $1.4 billion per year business. That number came from a company specializing in studies for environmental groups. In the year cited, California commercial fishers caught 1,032,000 pounds of salmon. You think a pound of salmon generates $1,400 in economic activity?

Apparently, you take everything said by the State Water Resources Control Board as gospel. Chairwoman Felicia Marcus is smart, quick-witted and was once one of your city’s bureaucrats before going to work for the oh-so-altruistic Natural Resources Defense Council (never mind allegations of sue-and-settle tactics and a $50 million payroll). She and former water board staffer Tam Doduc wouldn’t possibly color the facts, leave out pertinent data, discard valid peer-reviewed science and link one arm with professional environmentalists and the other with Beverly Hills farmers and developers to move water south.

Then you bow your head and admit Los Angeles once sinned against nature, draining Owens Valley and the Mono basin. You don’t mention that you’ve only recently been forced to stop taking more than your share of the Colorado River.

Is that why you want more from the Delta? You said as much in April when you insisted Gov. Jerry Brown’s tunnels be built. By portraying some of California’s poorest and hardest-laboring people as greedy fish-killers, do you figure you’ll use the water more wisely?

If you really, truly want to help the Delta and save salmon, you can. All you have to do is turn off those Delta pumps once in awhile.

Instead, you complain that our rivers are sometimes reduced “to a mere trickle.” Did you bother to check? At the height of summer, the “mere trickle” coming out of Tulloch Reservoir on the Stanislaus was 1,642 cubic feet (12,282 gallons) per second on Thursday; it was 1,891 cfs (14,441 gallons) on the Tuolumne, and 1,696 cfs on the Merced. Much of that goes for irrigation, but a significant portion is remaining in the rivers.

If we increased instream flows by 60 percent tomorrow, only around 2,100 cubic feet per second of additional water would enter the Delta. Sounds like a lot, until you compare it to the amount leaving the Delta.

Since 1991, your giant pumps have been sending up to 15,000 cubic feet per second down two man-made rivers toward Los Angeles. That’s when the Delta started getting saltier. By 2009, the National Marine Fisheries Services was blaming water exports for killing the fish.

By the way, how’s the fishing in that cement ditch you call the Los Angeles River?

We are restoring our rivers, using wastewater for farming and vastly improving irrigation techniques. We don’t mind reasonably increasing flows, but that alone won’t work.

Just ask renowned scientist Peter Moyle, who blogged in the midst of the water board hearings, “increased flows are not likely to increase (salmon) survival.”

Or ask equally renowned scientist Jay Lund, who said relying on flows to fix any river’s problems is “scientifically lazy.”

Read the peer-reviewed study that found salmon prefer mid-range, not massive, river flows.

Check the irrigation districts who built restoration projects on the Stanislaus that already have resulted in a three-fold increase in salmon without additional flows.

Or ask the state regulators who want to control our rivers how they managed to kill thousands of salmon on the Sacramento River in 2014 and trout on the Stanislaus in 2016.

Next time you set about burnishing your green cred by attacking us, check the facts. They’re fascinating.

Mike Dunbar is editorial page editor of The Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star. 209-578-2325, mdunbar@modbee.com.