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Delta Commission: Trojan horse threat to San Joaquin

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POSTED November 13, 2009 4:16 a.m.

Is there anything worse for your pocketbook and the future of this state than the California Legislature?

There is. It’s a proposed bureaucratic monster that would come with teeth to rip apart the fabric of life in and around the Delta. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the legislature call it the “Delta Commission.” In reality it should be called “The Stealth Commission for the Destruction of San Joaquin County.” The commission, should voters approve it in November 2010 along with the $11 billion water supply and pork barrel bond has all the potential to relegate local government and needs to serf status in the pecking order of California water politics.

Up until a few weeks ago, there wasn’t even going to be a member of the commission who even had direct ties to the Delta. The seven-member commission will consist of political appointees with four being made by the governor. They essentially will answer to no one much like the Coastal Commission and the California Air Resources Board.

Rest assured that the dealmakers in Sacramento originally didn’t think the Delta was of any consequence except to serve as a conduit for moving water and to appease environmentalists which is why a Delta representative originally was excluded from the commission.

One may argue the air board and coastal commission aren’t all that bad as they are indeed protecting the environment just like a similar commission that oversees the environment and development in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

The issue here isn’t protecting the environment. The main event is divvying up California’s water supply which pits north against south, rural against urban, and farmers that rely on imported water against developers who need to identify water sources before they can build under state law.

 It is abundantly clear that the politicians appointing the seven-member panel want the peripheral canal which means the November 2010 vote is a sneaky end-run since the governor gets four appointments without challenge from the legislature.

At least Schwarzenegger is honest if nothing else. He made it clear just over a week ago that the solution he envisions involves the peripheral canal. And he had the moxie to announce it while visiting Stockton in the heart of the anti-Peripheral Canal country.

It is no big secret that a peripheral canal, water conveyance or whatever fancy name you want to give it will ultimately devastate farming in the Delta as well as change the quality of life in the intricate web of nearly 1,000 miles of waterways that currently serves as the switchyard for the transfer of more than 70 percent of California’s fresh water supply.

The ballot measure doesn’t mention the peripheral canal. It doesn’t need to. The commission in all likelihood has enough broad power to shepherd it through against any and all objections.

This will have an impact on all communities in and around the Delta including Manteca and Lathrop.

Shifting water to accommodate a peripheral canal is expected to create boomerang effects that will also ultimately make this area more prone to flooding. At the same time the Delta Commission could very easily alter previous agreements put in place in the 1990s as part of a brokered deal to protect the Delta. Parts of Lathrop, rural Manteca, and areas near Brentwood that were considered outer Delta were removed from being off limits from development.

Given the history of the Coastal Commission in dealing with projects that haven’t reached the permit stage, it could spell some interesting times ahead especially for Lathrop with its 10,800-home planned community of River Islands at Lathrop. All bets are off once a Delta Commission is formed as they will be able to write their own rules unless someone can find a legal reason to stop them in court.

Such a commission can – and given what’s at stake – will hand down edicts that disrupt riparian water rights and force farmers to dance to the tune of a non-elected board of political appointees.

And by having Sacramento River water bypass the Delta to go south to Los Angeles, it opens the door for the state and federal government to start raiding Sierra watershed feeding the San Joaquin River for water to meet court-ordered water quality for fish.

That has the very real risk of imperiling South San Joaquin Irrigation District water supplies and in turn those that help sustain Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy and in a few years Ripon and Escalon in addition to South County farming.

The legislature managed to do what was previously thought impossible – offer a plan thanks to the proposal to create a Delta Commission that will do even more damage than the 1982 Peripheral Canal would have done to the Delta.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail

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