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Twin Tunnels: Hetch Hetchy water impacts on steroids

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POSTED April 24, 2014 1:05 a.m.

California is in the third year of a severe drought.

Governor Brown reminds us that we are all Californians. And as such, we are all in this together.

Well, not exactly. Some Californians are created more equal than others.

Keep this in mind as Sacramento struggles to meet court mandated minimum water flows revolving around fish protection as well as salinity in the Delta. 

The reason why the State Water Control Board is talking about possibly curtailing water rights is simple. California is in a dire situation. There is not enough of that stuff that we waste hosing down sidewalks, filling swimming pools that are left uncovered, taking 10 minute showers, or drowning lawns.

Fish, farms, cities, recreation, and water-based environments are all taking a hit.

Like it or not, Sacramento is taking steps to protect flows for fish and to counter growing salinity in the Delta as mandated by courts and the law. Whether you believe this is overreaching or not isn’t the issue. Instead the issue is who skates unharmed by water diversions for fish. At the same time the state is making a mighty case why the proposed $60 billion Twin Tunnels could ultimately devastate much of Central California.

So who isn’t contributing pain to the solution?

San Francisco — the cradle of the modern environmental movement that gave us storied organizations such as the Sierra Club.

Since 1934 San Francisco has been diverting water from the Tuolumne River.

But unlike Los Angeles that is often villanized by many San Franciscans for being environmental heretics, not a drop of the water that flows through the taps in The City ever enters the Delta as Mother Nature intended. Instead the water is diverted around the Delta in a 167-mile pipeline that runs under Modesto.

Water that flows to Los Angeles from the Sacramento River currently flows into the Delta to help keep salinity at bay and provide ample water for fish. That will change, of course, if the Twin Tunnels are built.

To understand the free ride that Los Angeles, the fat cat farmers of the Westlands Water District and parts of the East Bay would get just look at the sweetheart water arrangement that San Francisco has.

Not once has the water that San Francisco takes from near the headwaters of the Tuolumne River been reduced or impacted by any court decision involving fish flows and salinity issues. That despite the fact San Francisco clearly is removing a lot of water that once flowed into the Delta from ever reaching it.

Nor do Delta water needs during dry spills or droughts ever impact the flow of water to San Francisco.

You can’t blame Los Angeles. They just want the same sweetheart deal that San Francisco has.

While Los Angeles had to pay money to “steal” Owens Valley water rights by quietly buying them up without making it clear initially to local government what it was doing it and what for, San Francisco simply got cozy with Congress to destroy the upper Tuolumne River watershed to fuel growth and prosperity in The City.

They turned taxpayers into the modern-day equivalent of the Indians who were tricked into selling Manhattan Island to European settlers for the equivalent of $24 in goods. For $30,000 a year, San Francisco gets water for its residents and enough for another 1.8 million Bay Area residents as well as generates $41 million worth of hydroelectric power that it sells.

San Francisco politicians have furiously combated any suggestion in Congress that they start paying a more reasonable figure for use of federal land to destroy the lower part of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne in order to lube the economic wheels of San Francisco with cheap water and electricity. They argue taxpayers would get gored. Actually, the taxpayers of San Francisco are not getting gored unless you call paying a fair price for a resource that belongs to the nation an act of goring. 

Congressman Paul Ryan’s suggested earlier this month that $2 million a year might be an appropriate payment from San Francisco for Hetch Hetchy as a way of making federal resources that have been virtually given away free to help pull their weight and start to reduce the federal deficit.

Funny how the same politicians scream bloody murder because farmers in the Southern San Joaquin Valley are paying around $200 an acre foot for water from federal dams don’t see the irony in San Francisco paying 36 cents per acre foot for water. Granted, San Francisco built the dam but there would be no water for San Francisco if they didn’t permanently flood part of a national park.

Ironic, isn’t it, that the city that views environmental responsibility as the Holy Grail is the only city in the United States to flood a national park to keep water bills lower for corporate giants such as Twitter, Wells Fargo, PG&E, Netflix, and SalesForce to name a few.

Keep that in mind when Governor Brown pushes the Twin Tunnels and the state starts cutting back on water rights in the heart of California to protect fish and combat salinity.

San Francisco is getting special treatment. And at the same time the favorite pastime of many San Francisco is bragging how environmentally responsible they are and how the rest of California is squandering natural resources.

That’s why the Twin Tunnels have the making of being the Hetch Hetchy water system on steroids in terms of how it will have negative impacts on the Delta and the regions served by the tributaries that will be forced to backfill the lost water.

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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