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Twin Tunnels: Get ready for Owens Valley 2.0

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POSTED May 25, 2013 1:58 a.m.

Want to see the future of the Northern San Joaquin Valley?

Take a drive on the eastern side of the Sierra down Highway 395 through the bergs of Lone Pine, Bishop and Big Pine.

It is here that the Hoover vacuum of California water resources - the Los Angeles Basin - first worked its magic.

They tricked and manipulated their way into seizing water. The Los Angeles Aqueduct - a low-tech forerunner of the proposed Twin Tunnels through the Delta - was in place by 1913. By the early 1920s the once fertile valley that many said rivaled the San Joaquin Valley struggled to sustain tumbleweeds let alone agriculture.

Los Angeles’ desire to grow beyond its regional water resources deprived others of the precious liquid and stopped the flow of water into Owens Lake.

In the mid-1910s Owens Lake was 12 miles long and eight miles wide while covering up to 108 square mile. The lake level fluctuated between 23 to 50 feet. It was teeming with fish and wildlife.

Then LA started diverting water. By 1924, it was a shadow of itself. When the 1950s rolled around it was essentially non-existent save for a trickle of water that escaped the faucets and swimming pools of Los Angeles.

Today, some of the water has been restored by court order after LA was unwilling to let a drop stay in the Owens Valley. The result of hosing down sidewalks in Santa Monica, washing Bentleys in Beverly Hills, and letting decorative water fountains flow in downtown LA has been the creation of the single largest source of air pollution in the United States.

Dust storms now kick up as much as 4 million tons of dust a year from the lake bed. It has caused repository problems for valley residents and has created havoc with flight patterns at nearby Ridgecrest that serves as the home to the China Lake Air Weapons Station.

At one point Mono Lake north of Owens Valley was headed to the same fate as Owens Lake when LA started diverting water from that lake’s watershed in 1941. It took years of David versus Goliath fighting but finally in 1983 those battling to save Mono Lake prevailed in court.

Los Angeles is once again preparing to stage a water raid of biblical proportions.

This time the target is Sacramento River water and the collateral damage is the Delta, San Joaquin County, and the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

They make the Twin Tunnels that would take Sacramento River water near Hood and divert it into 35-mile long tunnels until it reaches the California Aqueduct near Tracy seem harmless. They contend the tunnel plan won’t harm anything - the fish, Delta water quality, agriculture or the economy of the Delta region.

Proponents are already running deceptive radio spots just like the Peripheral Canal forces did in 1982. The ads warn of “a heart attack” waiting to happen. They focus on the possibility that a major earthquake could turn Delta levees to jelly and collapse cutting off water to 25 million Californians and a host of corporate farms with Fortune 500 connections.

It’s a nice scare tactic that diverts attention from the fact they are removing water flow that sustains the Delta ecology as it makes its way to the pumps near Tracy. That water flowing toward LA through the meandering Delta helps keep salt water intrusion at bay. It keeps fish alive.

Without it, the only way court mandated flows can be maintained is by cannibalizing water rights on the tributaries of the San Joaquin River including the Stanislaus River.

San Joaquin County will get a quadruple whammy. It will lose essential water flow, it will have the water it needs to sustain farming and its cities commandeered, economic growth will be cut off here so LA and the Bay Area can keep growing, and the soil will eventually be rendered sterile by too much salt. And as an added bonus the Delta Stewardship Council - the California Coastal Commission on steroids - will be in place as an overlay agency to stop land use development it believes might somehow impact the Delta.

At least the victims of the LA water grab in the Owens Valley don’t have to worry about an overlay government that answers to no one.

When all is said and done, it is about diverting water from the Delta whether it is the Peripheral Canal or the Twin Tunnels. It means that Los Angeles and big corporate farmers won’t have to worry about cutting back water use in drought years.

It is much like the sweetheart deal San Francisco made to plunder Hetch Hetchy and divert its water by pipe beneath the San Joaquin Valley. That city effectively diverted water from the Merced River that could have flowed into the Delta to reach the Bay Area.

Modern California was created by reshaping nature’s plumbing and diverting water. It is the foundation of what is the world’s ninth largest economy.

LA needs water but so does the rest of the state.

As it stands now, only those with the power, votes, and money will thrive in the California of the future.  The rest of the state will face a fate similar to the Owens Valley where the landscape today is virtually barren and those who live there eat the dust created by Los Angeles.



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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