Farmers who depend on the Central Valley Project are angry over how much water they’re not going to get this irrigation season. They’re also angry at any writer who doesn’t share their rage.
After watching so much rain fall and snow accumulate in the Sierra, a reasonable West Side farmer might get maybe half his or her normal water allotment … at least a third, surely … certainly a quarter.
No, they’ll get 5 percent. That’s right, a 20th. We don’t blame them for being mad.
I made short shrift of their frustrations in an April 3 column that suggested it doesn’t do any good to get angry over water flowing through the Delta and out to sea because we don’t have enough room to store all that water. Specifically, I wrote: “there’s some room remaining south of the Delta, but not nearly enough for all the water supposedly being wasted.”
Daniel Errotabere of the Fresno County Farm Bureau called that statement an April Fool’s Day joke. He noted that San Luis Reservoir is only half full, with room for another 1 million acre-feet. Counting Castaic Lake (183,000 acre-feet) and Lake Perris (85,000) – both on the other side of the Tehachapis – he said the state could store another 1.25 million acre-feet.
He’s right about the numbers. But I’m not sure it would do him or any other farmer much good.
First, any water pumped over the hill into Perris or Castaic will be used by Los Angelenos, not farmers, to water their drought-resistant landscaping.
Second, the reservoirs aren’t full because some room is reserved for runoff expected in May and June. In other words, a fifth of that empty space is “reserved.”
Finally, while an extra million acre-feet sounds like a lot, it doesn’t go as far as any of us would like.
Consider, Lake McClure holds about 1 million acre-feet when full; New Melones usually holds around 2 million. But after three years of drought, McClure went dry last summer. And New Melones was at the lowest levels seen in a generation. People could walk across the old Parrotts Ferry bridge – normally 80 feet under water. You couldn’t even see the lake from most of the boat ramps.
Even if the feds put another 800,000 acre-feet San Luis, it would amount to no more than 10 inches for roughly 1 million irrigated acres. Then, when drought returns – possibly next spring – 10 inches won’t save all those new almond trees.
Perhaps farmers are most angry because no one can agree on how to best manage what water we have.
Part of the reason San Luis isn’t being filled is a mindless adherence to environmental rules that are difficult to grasp in a drought and impossible to comprehend in the midst of an El Niño. Throttling back the pumps because somebody spotted an inch-long smelt 17 miles away is ridiculous, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has pointed out. She’s carrying legislation to change those rules.
But House Republicans have their own bill. They want to fire up the pumps, suspend the Endangered Species Act and sell New Melones Reservoir to two local irrigation districts – mainly because they believe they’d be able to buy most of the water it holds. That’s all pure veto bait.
I’ll say it again: The only way to get more water is to store it when we have it. We need more conservation, smarter water management, more desalination; but until we can store more water, arguing over it will just makes our mouths dry.
The San Jose Mercury News excoriated the Contra Costa Water District for the quiet little deal it cut with the state to get water through the state’s proposed twin tunnels beneath the Delta. The Mercury News’ objections sound a lot like ours. Contra Costa will get its Sacramento River water farther upstream, before the water reaches the Delta. That means, wrote the Mercury News, the deal “will leave less for the Delta.”
Read another way, it gives lie to the state’s “co-equal goals” of more reliable deliveries south and saving the Delta.
Why do we care? Sending more water beneath – instead of through – the Delta leaves only one option for saving the Delta: Taking more water from the San Joaquin River’s tributaries – the Tuolumne, Merced and Stanislaus rivers. The state knows this will create “significant, but unavoidable” problems in our communities, but doesn’t care – which will become evident when it releases its economic study sometime this summer.
Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Water District completed its purchase of the islands it will use to create in-Delta storage. Two of those islands are in the path of the tunnels. No subterfuge there (wink, wink). An anti-tunnel group is suing to force an environmental study. Good luck.
Here’s something the state hasn’t talked about: What if there isn’t enough San Joaquin River water to save the Delta after the Sacramento has been sent south? After all, the Sacramento makes up 80 percent of the Delta’s water – more in dry years.
When that happens, Metropolitan and Westlands – who will be operating the tunnels – will get theirs. But how much will it leave for the rest of the Bay Area? For the poor Delta smelt? For us?