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Sacrificing Northern SJV for LA Basin

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POSTED December 22, 2016 12:42 a.m.

We are all one California.
Before we get all teary-eyed about that sentiment voiced by backers of the State Water Resources Control Board advancing policies that largely hinge on commandeering out-of-watershed water to keep powering Los Angeles’ unnatural expansion by swooping in and add the raping of the San Joaquin Valley to the Owens Valley-style graveyards created so La-La Land can prosper, let’s talk about the original sin.
It is an important conversation to have given how Los Angeles politicians and pundits are smooching up with the Death Star wing of the hard-core environmentalist movement to add a few more fish on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers while supposedly helping Delta salinity.
The salinity improvement under the plan to dump 360,000 more acre feet of water down the three rivers between February and June is real rich given that in normal water years that is not the time when salinity is a concern.
So what brings up the original sin: The Los Angeles Basin being populated with more than 10 million people.
It’s the sentiment that we are all Californians. You won’t get an argument from this corner about that being true unless you are doing what the defenders of LA water colonialism are and twisting its meaning to argue the Northern San Joaquin Valley needs to willingly commit economic suicide as well as sacrifice the regional environment made possible today by how water has been managed and released for more than 100 years.
We are told it’s all about expanding native salmon and steelhead. Here’s a reality check. Salmon and steelhead are faring much better on the Stanislaus than they are on the Los Angeles River where — just like the Stanislaus — they can be legitimately be called a native species.
A funny thing happened to the Los Angeles River as boosters of LA growth took water from elsewhere in California to grow beyond the LA Basin’s natural water sources from the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers. The salmon and steelhead were wiped out and the LA River was turned into a concrete lined storm drain. Los Angeles, according to a 2016 LA Department of Water & Power report, can only support 500,000 people if it relied on the two rivers and groundwater. The City of Los Angeles has 4.03 million people.
Cities and what farming remains in the LA Basin are not supported by its own watershed. That’s not the case in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
Lecturing Northern San Joaquin Valley on its development patterns, farming, and track record of protecting the environment is akin to the San Francisco 49ers lecturing the Dallas Cowboys about how to win in the NFL.
When it comes to water the words LA boosters speak are about as deep as a Tweet.
Instead of pounding their chests, they might want to take a hike. I have two spots they can go — Sam Mack Meadows on the way to the Palisades Glacier as well as Sonora Peak.
Sam Mack Meadows is at 11,040 feet in the eastern Sierra. It is where a stream originates that feeds into the North Fork of Big Pine Creek. A hundred years ago Big Pine Creek flowed  freely into the Owens River where it nourished lush riparian habitat and ultimately ended up in Owens Lake that was a rich and unique ecological system jammed with birds. Along the way water was diverted into small irrigation canals that feed bountiful farm fields and orchards.
Today most of the water bubbling over rocks at Sam Mack Meadows makes it way to water faucets in LA where it is used to hose down sidewalks, wash cars, and fill swimming pools among other things. The riparian ecological systems are anemic at best and while Owens Lake isn’t completely dead — it is on forced life support after the courts told LA Water & Power they did had not have the right to finish it off — it might as well be. Agriculture is holding on by a thread. LA controls all of the groundwater for its own benefit.
Sonora Peak soars to 11,464 feet. From its western slope is the farthest reach of the Stanislaus River water basin. Snow melt from here travels through the Stanislaus National Forest providing life for fish and other creatures. As it works its way to the valley floor, the runoff nurtures orchards and farms as well as a rarity for a number of Sierra tributaries of the San Joaquin River decimated by state and federal government oversight: Water flows as well as fish can be found year round.
Much of that water used for agriculture seeps into the ground for use farther downstream for cities, rural residents, and other farmers that tap into underground streams. That is in stark contrast to the Owens Valley where 95 percent of the private land — former farms for the most part — bought by the LA Department of Water and Power so groundwater could be harvested to feed and sustain LA’s unnatural growth.
What is at stake with increased unimpaired flows Sacramento is pushing on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers is crystal clear.
Either the Northern San Joaquin Valley continues to thrive or it becomes a kissing cousin of the Owens Valley and Mono Lake Basin watersheds courtesy of state water policy ultimately dictated by the Los Angeles first doctrine. That doctrine would never consider cutting back water commandeered by LA and big corporate farms to expand unimpaired water flows for fish.

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