The following is an Op-Ed by Turlock Irrigation District Boardmember and veterinarian at Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital, Dr. Rob Santos, DVM.
Governor Brown is changing our senior water rights on the Tuolumne River.
By now most of you have heard that the California Water Board just released a report called the Substitute Environmental Document (SED), which recommends that 40% of the water in the Tuolumne, Merced, and Stanislaus Rivers flow unimpaired to the Delta in order to improve the salmon habitat. A better name for the document is the SHAM Environmental Document because it is a smokescreen that hides the real reason why 40% flows are needed.
The SED is Governor Brown’s latest chess move in which his paid political pawn, the State Water Board, is requiring the residents of the Tuolumne River watershed to send 400,000 acre feet each year into the Delta. Why? It’s not really to save the salmon. Instead, it is to fill a deficit the Governor’s Twin Tunnels will create.
Remember that other plan – the California WaterFix – that will build $16 billion Twin Tunnels to take Sacramento River water, transport it under the Delta, and convey it to the California Aqueduct? Those tunnels are designed to make water delivery from the Delta to Southern California more reliable and consistent. In the past. direct pumping of the Delta has been suspended on multiple occasions to help the Delta ecology. For example a federal Fresno judge has required the pumps be turned off to save the Delta smelt.
Now my 9-year-old son Teddy could tell you that if the Sacramento River water is going to be diverted under the Delta – and not through it – then the Delta is going to get a lot more salty.
The Governor needs our Tuolumne River water to replenish the Delta with fresh water. He will say that these increased flow requirements are for the salmon or to restore the rivers, but that’s just a sham. The non-native bass and climate change threaten the salmon far more than water diversions.
Look at the Governor’s previous chess moves.
• He convinced people to pass the Water Bond in 2014, using the promise of more water storage. But this Proposition also provided for direct assistance to restore the Delta. Restoration is required for Brown’s Twin Tunnels to meet federal and state regulations.
• The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California paid $175 million for three Delta Islands. Yes, that is a southern California water agency that would love to get a more reliable water supply via the Twin Tunnels.
What does 40% unimpaired flows look like for the Tuolumne River?
• It is roughly 400,000 acre-feet of water per year or 130,000,000,000 gallons each year. In comparison, our TID farmers used 420,000 acre-feet of water this year.
• Don Pedro Reservoir will potentially be empty 1 out of every 4 years.
• In drought years (like 2015) TID farmers will receive ZERO water.
• A significant portion of farmland will be switched to non-agricultural uses. (And the Water Board has the audacity to suggest that in dry years – i.e. no rain – dry farming and fallowing both constitute an “agricultural use.”)
• Groundwater will be significantly depleted as cities and farmers pump more water from the ground. Reduced diversions will also deplete ground water.
• The quality of water in domestic wells will drop, as it also could for our public water systems.
• There will be greater green house gas emission as energy providers lose hydropower energy production and replace it with less green sources of energy
• Subsidence (sinking ground) in Modesto, Turlock, and Merced will increase.
• Historical, legal, senior water rights (which our forefathers wisely secured) on the Tuolumne River will be given to Southern California.
And you know what? The State Water Board acknowledges almost every one of these outcomes in the SED calling them “significant, but unavoidable.” http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/bay_delta/bay_delta_plan/water_quality_control_planning/2016_sed/docs/ch_18_summ_impacts.pdf
But the Water Board deems them necessary because they have a big fish to save, and it isn’t the salmon.
Governor Brown knows he has just 2 years to start construction of his $16-billion Twin Tunnels. And he knows that no one will care about starting his legacy tunnels when he’s out of office. He needs those flows sooner rather than later.
So what’s his next move? Because he knows this will get tied up in court, he will try to convince the legislature to pass a law, which would force the Turlock and Modesto Irrigation Districts to comply with the SED or Sham Environmental Document. When something is legislated, a court challenge does not place the process on hold, rather tunnel construction would continue while the process dragged through the courts.
What can you do? I guess you could refuse to stand for the California anthem. But better yet, write to Governor Brown and tell him what you think of him. Let the State Water Board know too. Attend the meetings and rallies and voice your opinion. And if they don’t listen, prepare for the new Dust Bowl (not the beer) right here in what is one of the most productive agricultural economies in the world.
Rob Santos, DVM: Why I Oppose the California Water Bond