Bacon Island is 5,400 acres of what is arguably some of the richest reclaimed farmland on earth. It is 13 miles east of Antioch and 13 miles west of Stockton smack dab in the middle of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The Old River that parts ways with the main channel of the San Joaquin River west of the Mossdale Crossing snakes its way past Bacon Island on one side while the Middle River — that splits from the old River once it makes its way out of Lathrop — flows on the other side. The Connection Slough and Woodward Island Canal complete the encircling of the dark rich soil of the island now owned by Zurich Insurance Group — a Swiss firm that bought the island originally not to farm but with a grandiose plan to store water developed by Californian and American taxpayers and sell it to the highest bidder.
In a sense, they are doing just that. The firm has inked a deal with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to sell 20,000 acres that include all or parts of five islands for $175 million.
MWD General Manager Jeff Kightlinger tells no one to worry. This isn’t a water grab nor will any water storage be taking place. In fact, he says the MWD hasn’t finalized any plans for the land as if they just have a spare $175 million to throw around. But he then back tracks slightly telling KQED News that the purchase wouldn’t dramatically increase the MWD’s rights to Northern California water in an obvious reference to the riparian water rights that the five islands enjoy.
Then he talks about what he calls “enlightened self-interest.” Kightlinger says the MWD may restore habitat since a healthier Delta would enhance the ability of the massive water district to have less water delivery interruptions when courts or droughts dictate how much water flows and whether the crucial pumps at Tracy can send water southward via the California Aqueduct.
There are lies, damned lies, and the posturing of the Metropolitan Water District.
Bacon Island just happens to be in the path of the Twin Tunnels. They are described by backers as two proposed 50-foot wide tunnels that will act likes straws to ferry water bound for Los Angeles beneath the fragile Delta that they contend is vulnerable to massive levee collapses during a major earthquake.
Straws are an apt analogy given that once water that now flows from where the Sacramento River enters the Delta to where it is pumped south at Tracy coursing through the Delta much like the blood that gives your body life enters the Twin Tunnels it will suck life out of the Delta.
As for Armageddon being a shake or two away, where is the major quake fault that threatens the Delta? And why — after 140 years of the levees being created from the worst possible material which is surrounding soil — hasn’t there been a quake triggered collapse?
There are countless small earthquakes every week in California. Plus there have been big ones including the 1906 San Francisco Quake and the 1991 Loma Preita Quake. How did the levees perform? They reportedly wiggled like Jell-O. In case you are wondering, that is what engineers want the skyscrapers rising up from the Los Angeles Basin and those built on landfill in San Francisco to do during a major quake — sway like Jell-O.
So why, you might ask, should you care about any of this? The answer lies east of the Sierra in what’s left of Mono Lake, the whisper of what was once massive Owens Lake, and countless farms and ranches under stress that are unable to access life giving water flowing through the Owens River fed by Sierra tributaries. This was the handiwork of one of MWD’s partners in crime — the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. They also used the “enlightened self-interest” gamut to give the residents of Owens Valley a false sense of security.
This is why San Joaquin County along with Contra Costa County, three Delta water agencies, the Planning and Conservation League as well as Food and Water Watch are suing the MWD over their plan to purchase the five islands.
The lawsuit is based on a lie. A big lie.
The MWD on March 24 filed a Notice of Exemption under the California Environmental Quality Act for the purchase of the islands claiming it was for Delta habitat restoration purposes.
The only problem is Kightlinger told the world when the purchase was announced that the islands could facilitate the building of the $17 billion Twin Tunnels being pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown by “reducing eminent-domain needs and providing a storage place for construction dirt.”
Sorry, but Caterpillars that move massive amount of dirt to drain the Delta of fresh water aren’t part of the natural habitat.
The MWD has also made other statements about the benefits of Los Angeles buying islands 355 miles to the north that are brazenly at odds with the CEQA exemption statement.
If MWD is allowed to bring home Bacon Island, then everyone within a 60-mile radius of the Delta — residents, farmers, businesses, and even environmentalists trying to safeguard nature — will enjoy the new reality of having significantly less water as the state commandeers fresh water from them to keep salt water intrusion in the Delta in check to replace what the Twin Tunnels takes out.
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 email@example.com or 209.249.3519.