A little over a century ago Owens Lake was 12 miles long and 13 miles wide. It covered 108 square miles with average depths fluctuating between 23 and 50 feet. There were teeming wetlands.
The Owens Valley itself had fertile farmland made productive by water from the eastern Sierra.
Farther north Mono Lake’s surface elevation was 6,427 feet.
Fast forward to 1982.
Owens Lake had disappeared. In its place was a dry lake bed. Winds whipped up dust storms sending plumes of dust two miles into the sky. The concentration of dust particles at one time was 23 times greater than the acceptable federal standard. Respiratory and other health issues in the Owens Valley and nearby areas such as Ridgecrest spiked.
Agriculture wilted. Communities struggled to survive.
Mono Lake’s surface elevation dropped to 6,372 feet. It’s vibrant and unique eco-system was on the verge of collapse. A land bridge was developing to Paoha Island that has served as the nesting grounds for 90 percent of California’s gulls for centuries allowing predators such as coyotes to feast on eggs and the young.
This was all the result of Los Angeles commandeering water from tributaries feeding the Owens River then bypassing Owens Lake by diverting water into the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
If you live in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, or Merced counties you can see the future of the Northern San Joaquin Valley by taking a six hour drive to see what price a predominately agriculture and rural region pays when Los Angeles and corporate farms need more water.
The environmental, economic and social impacts of what happened in the Owens Valley to feed Los Angeles’ growth and prosperity is what the State Water Resources Control Board today would term “significant but unavoidable.” True they were significant but it’s a lie that they were unavoidable.
Those three words — “significant but unavoidable” — is what the state uses today to describe crippling the economic welfare of Northern San Joaquin Valley families by taking water away from the $8.5 billion agriculture sector in the three counties as well as short changing water recreation by essentially forcing reservoirs to be much lower even in times of abundant rain and snow in order to satisfy the water demands of LA and large corporate farmers.
The Twin Tunnels would rob the Delta of the life giving flow of much of the water from the Sacramento River watershed that ultimately is pumped south at the Tracy pumps by diverting it before it reaches the Delta.
In doing so, no additional water storage is created. But what it does is assure LA of a steady water supply even in drought years. Plus it also would cost LA less to treat the water as it would not have passed through the Delta.
To avoid “significant” damage to the Delta ecological system, Twin Tunnel architects have to get water elsewhere to replace the Sacramento River flows.
That is why the only rivers in the entire state that Sacramento wants to increase unimpaired flows on are the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers.
Essentially it means the Northern San Joaquin Valley will suffer a similar fate as the Owens Valley if the Twin Tunnels project proceeds.
What would happen to the environment, economy and social fabric of the Northern San Joaquin Valley is significant, however, it is absolutely avoidable.
Options range from building a much shorter tunnel under the Old River near the Tracy pumps as a University of California at Davis researcher suggested to LA building more desalination plants and recycling more water.
The worst part about the Twin Tunnel plan is that it isn’t being given legs by LA.
Heavy equipment operator unions see it as fat paychecks for 10 or so years. Sacramento bureaucrats see it as a project that can guarantee employment until their retirement.
To hell with the farm workers and other agricultural employees from truckers to food processors it would displace. A couple thousand “new” temporary construction jobs are more valuable than tens of thousands of jobs held by workers struggling to keep their families fed, clothed and sheltered.
Let Los Angeles enjoy the domino effect of adequate water supplies on its economy that results in more jobs and prosperity while the Northern San Joaquin Valley suffers the domino effect of inadequate water supplies on its economy and less jobs and more poverty.
Keeping Orange County swimming pools filled is more important than public recreation at New Melones Reservoir.
Sell out small family farms that have paid for their own local irrigation district reservoirs and such without state and federal help in favor of large corporate farms that relied on billions in federal and state dollars to construct the Central Valley Water Project and State Water Project to provide them with water.
They use to say water in California was a north-south issue. That’s no longer the case.
The dynamics behind the Twin Tunnels is making it a struggle between wealthy California and poor California.
Given the “significant and unavoidable” impacts the Twin Tunnels ultimately will have the Northern San Joaquin Valley is destined to become Owens Valley 2.0 — no growth, farmers barely hanging on, and environmental devastation with the added bonus of greater economic misery.
All so Los Angeles can have water to hose down their driveways.