State Issues

Learn from history … fight to keep your water

This aerial view shows the Central Valley Project pumping plant near Tracy; it has been shut down for most of the year, despite adequate rainfall, to save a miniscule number of Delta longfin smelt.
This aerial view shows the Central Valley Project pumping plant near Tracy; it has been shut down for most of the year, despite adequate rainfall, to save a miniscule number of Delta longfin smelt. The Fresno Bee

At an important meeting last week in Modesto, The Bee reported, Francisco Canela, a member of the Stanislaus County Water Advisory Committee, asked one of the state’s top water regulators a great question:

“Where’s the end game for this community? That’s our concern. We’re giving more water and more water, and we aren’t getting anything back.”

The short answer to Canela’s question is that the community will never get back any water or anything else.

The history, since 1992, of ever-declining water supplies to farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley provides the proof.

Independent, peer-reviewed science shows no amount of additional water will ever be shown as sufficient to restore Delta fish species such as Delta smelt and salmon.

In the 1990s, I was one of a very small group of Delta export water agency staff members engaged in the often overlapping committees and work groups involved in two critical water efforts – the Central Valley Project Improvement Act and the Cal Fed Bay Delta Program, which both began in 1995. These two efforts were made up of 100-plus committees, work groups and task forces, stretching from our Valley to Sacramento to Washington, D.C.

Our charge was to assess and develop reasonable and viable alternatives to the innumerable draconian proposals and plans put forth by regulatory agency staffers and their partners in the environmental community.

Most of the meetings were conducted in small conference rooms and usually consisted of no more than 10 or 12 people. I spent countless hours in one-on-one interactions with environmental “stakeholders,” such as Gary Bobker and Spreck Rosekrans with ample time to talk with, hear and read between the lines. I learned in detail what the professional environmentalists’ real end game and agenda was – and still is.

The environmental community wants to bring an end to – literally shut down – Central Valley agriculture and related industries by cutting off the water that Valley agriculture needs to feed the nation and the world. Water that our entire economy depends on. Period!

The Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and a host of other state and federal regulatory requirements and the scientifically discredited flow-centric fishery “science” fostered by regulatory agencies such as the State Water Resources Control Board, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and others are just the straw men being used to achieve that goal.

Those representing agriculture and trying to negotiate any of the current proposals involving the San Joaquin River and its tributaries (the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers) must be extremely wary of entering into any agreements. They must remain mindful of our recent history.

We thought we had an agreement when we signed the Bay-Delta Accord on Dec. 15, 1994. That led to the formation of, and our support for, the Cal Fed Program that was based on the promise that “we all get better together.”

The supposedly 10-year Cal Fed Program included stated timelines, goals and objectives. Twenty years later, the exporters have adhered to – and are still saddled with – their commitments. But Cal Fed, even after spending hundreds of millions of dollars and wasting millions of acre-feet of water on Delta outflows and in-stream flows that only increase, has never achieved any of its goals, objectives or deadlines. Not one.

Nor could Cal Fed or any of the related regulatory agencies prove that even one fish has been saved or benefited by these incredible losses. Not one!

There’s an old axiom that goes “learn from history lest you be doomed to repeat it.”

I hope your local agencies – and everyone who would be affected, public entities and private citizens – learn the lessons history has taught us over the last 20 years.

Lance W. Johnson is a retired water resources engineer living at Shaver Lake. He worked on Central Valley and San Joaquin Valley water fishery and water rights, including as a water agency general manager. He wrote this for The Modesto Bee.