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Lathrop joins fight against canal option
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LATHROP – It’s been called the “third rail” in California’s divisive water politics.

And the Lathrop City Council is joining a coalition that won’t touch it with a 10-foot-pole. Elected leaders are teaming up with the likes of the City of Stockton and the County of San Joaquin against an entity they fear will plunder the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and rekindle the 30-plus year old idea of constructing the peripheral canal to divert water from the Sacramento River around the estuary and into the aqueducts that serve Southern California.

By teaming up with City of Stockton and San Joaquin County, Lathrop hopes to send a message to the Delta Stewardship Council – a group formed during Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s tenure to both provide a more reliable water supply for California and protect and enhance the ecosystem of the Delta – that says they’re opposed to some of the ideas on the horizon and ready to fight if need be.

According to Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston, it’s the far-reaching powers that the agency has been granted that’s the most scary. It is something that she feels robs local governments of their basic right to determine what they feel is best.

“You’re not going to be the final arbiter of what happens in your community in terms of projects,” Johnston said. “They’re going to play a ‘Godlike’ role in what happens in our communities and that’s why we’re gathering together to fight this.

“I can just see things coming to a standstill if they have to go through another layer of government that can make decisions based on subjective criteria. That’s what makes this such a threat to our economy and what is bringing all of these groups together to form a coalition.”

And the work to combat the organization is already underway.

Johnston said that certain county staffers and local officials have already met with a lobbying firm to determine what would be the best way to proceed, she noted that there are already talks about a media campaign.

The crux of the issue, however, centers around water rights and the impacts that the council – one that was compared to the California Coastal Commission in its ability to rule on anything it deems relevant in its pursuit – can have on them.

Supervisor Larry Ruhstaller backed up Johnston’s reference to ‘god like’ abilities by pointing out several things on the Lathrop council’s agenda that night that they’d likely weigh in on.

He also noted that the platform the group was taking when it comes to water for farmers in Central California and residents in Southern California wasn’t a complete “hands off” approach. That wasn’t the intent, he said, when the aqueduct was constructed by Pat Brown in the 1960s to help make sure that the Los Angeles basin had clean drinking water.

But that water, Ruhstaller said, was intended only to be the surplus that wasn’t needed by Northern California residents. And he’d like to keep it that way.

“We’re not saying that we won’t send it south to the farmers on the Westside or further south, but it’s got to be the surplus,” he said. “Water defies gravity by flowing uphill towards money and votes – that’s what we’re facing here.

“You cannot turn the San Joaquin into an Owens Valley.”