The Delta for centuries was a massive flooded plain in spring and a borderline desert by late fall.
It wasn’t until man - more precisely gold seekers turned civilization builders - started building a massive system of levees to establish fertile farms in the late 19th century that the 1,000 miles of meandering waterways we know as the Delta today came into existence.
In doing so, the Chinese laborers and the land barons that hired them unwittingly laid the groundwork for an epic struggle over who controls the flow of north state water.
The levees essentially contained the flow of the San Joaquin River and the mightier Sacramento River as their waters made their way to San Francisco Bay.
It was an east-west flow. And as the seasons changed going from low volume to high runoff from snow melt, the salt water intrusion ebbed with the flows.
The State Water Project and its kissing federal cousin the California Water Project changed all of that. Thanks to the California Aqueduct and massive pumps near Tracy, the predominate flow was turned to north-south to create a more uniform pressure against salt water intrusion even in drier years.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed Stealth Peripheral Canal - two twin tunnel 25 miles long - will change all of that by restoring the east-west flow. It is that flow - especially minus the Sacramento River water that all flowed to the SF Bay 80 years ago - that has the ability to convert the Delta into a wet version of the Owens Valley. It could easily make riparian irrigation useless due to heavy concentrations of salt that - when applied to crops - not only can kill them but ultimately render some of the world’s most fertile soil sterile.
There are less intrusive proposals out there such as several small “mini tunnels” near the confluence of the Old River and Main Channel on the San Joaquin plus deliberate flooding of an island or two that are substantially less than the $18 billion price tag and would cause less destruction of farmland.
But that isn’t what the big south state water interests want.
What makes this even more curious is how the state is trying to sell the east-west flows as being a restoration of the environment.
If getting back to environmental basics - the late 19th century Delta that is now so desired in water flows - is what is important then eliminate any protection for non-native fish in the Delta. That by itself would go a long way toward increasing water flows to the south state without the tunnels.
The state, however, has selective standards when it comes to the environment.
The once natural Los Angeles River in the heart of the LA Basin today is nothing but a lined concrete canal. LA is kept alive artificially with imported water from both the north state and Colorado River
A few years back it was determined silt buildup at several points was a contributing factor to flooding along the Los Angeles River. As plans were being made to dredge it, the state went into hyper overdrive about how it would drastically change the environment. The decree was that the sand bars - even though they developed on concrete - where now part of the environment that deserved consideration for protection.
Yet Sacramento, to satisfy the wants of massive southern San Joaquin Valley corporate farmers and Southland water users, wants to pursue alterations of epic proportions on the Delta environment that has existed in its current form for 80 years.
If it is considered “the right thing” to restore the Delta to its original east-west flow then it would also be “the right thing” to return the Los Angeles Basin to the days it depended on its own original water sources.
That won’t happen because powerful interests that drive Southern California development and massive corporate farms tied to Wall Street have decided “the right thing to do” is to lay waste to the Delta so they can continue building more and more homes in an area of the state that struggles to sustain what it already has.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.