‘Dam’-ing evidence of one of the most heinous crimes of environmental destruction ever visited upon the San Joaquin Delta in the name of development lies buried in the ground south of the Stanislaus River.
It is a big reason why the quality of water entering the Delta just past Mossdale Landing in Lathrop isn’t as good as it can be. True, farming and diversions farther upstream on the San Joaquin River watershed play a major role. But there’s a stealth enemy of the Delta whose leaders often like to portray themselves as if they are its biggest friends - the City of San Francisco.
The evidence is the Hetch Hetchy pipeline that for over 80 years has been silently bypassing the Delta where the water it carries could easily contribute to its environmental cleansing before flowing into Bay Area taps.
It is a sizable amount of water rivaling what Los Angeles is siphoning from the far reaches of Northern California. But unlike LA whose water treachery - perceived and otherwise - is exposed for the entire world to see, San Francisco managed to hide all of their elemental sins from view.
The water needed to satisfy San Francisco’s thirst and the needs of 20 other major Bay Area cities and water districts flows 24/7 undetected across the Northern San Joaquin Valley. By comparison, LA’s water exploitation is visible for all to see along the 701.5-mile California Aqueduct that starts near Tracy. Much of it is visible by motorists using Interstate 5.
You won’t find very many Northern Californians - including Bay Area folks - who don’t get their indignation up a notch or two while driving the I-5 and musing about LA’s plundering of north state water.
Imagine if San Francisco had built an aqueduct instead of a pipeline from Yosemite to San Francisco along Highway 120 to serve as a constant reminder of where they are taking their water from. The odds are San Francisco would get as big a black eye among environmentalists and others just as Los Angeles has when it comes to water exploitation and environmental damage.
Not only that, but LA’s handiwork is all out in the open whether it was the wanton destruction of Owens Lake, the devastation of Owen Valley agriculture or the severe impacts on the unique ecological system that is Mono Lake. They’re not hidden behind towering granite and thick forests accessed by just a narrow off-the-beaten-path road such as Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
During droughts, San Francisco and its Bay Area customers never have to worry about federal and state edicts reducing use of water originating in the San Joaquin River watershed. The water they take from the Tuolumne River never has to figure into any court decision regarding water use and protecting the Delta smelt and other fish.
If only LA had the foresight to bury the California Aqueduct as a 705.1-mile tunnel.
That is the genius of Gov. Jerry Brown’s Twin Tunnels to allow Sacramento River water to circumvent the Delta so it can flow unabated into the California Aqueduct to LA faucets and corporate farms owned by Wall Street firms on the westside of the Southern San Joaquin Valley. Out-of-sight means out-of-mind.
The water consumed by San Francisco et al would have a big positive impact on the Delta especially in the summer and fall if it was allowed to flow to where it did for thousands of years. San Francisco engineered a sweetheart $30,000 a year deal behind closed doors with Congress to broker the destruction of the Hetch Hetchy Valley.
San Francisco could still have had all of their water except, of course, in drought years or as the result of court edicts. That’s because San Francisco could easily take their water out of the Delta instead of near the base of Hetch Hetchy.
San Francisco voters on Nov. 6 have a chance to say they want the special treatment and pass they get for Hetch Hetchy to end. A measure on the city’s ballot calls for the tearing down of O’Shaughnessy Dam and the ultimate restoration of the valley.
That may be a little extreme given the circumstances as defined by population and development patterns.
But what would be fair is an order of Congress subjecting water taken from the headwaters of the Tuolumne River that comes from land all under federal control to be subjected to the same drought year restrictions on water deliveries as those within the Bureau of Reclamation’s control via the Central Valley Project.
That way San Francisco just like Los Angeles, Manteca, Turlock, Fresno, San Diego and almost the rest of California can do their fair share to protect the environment during dry cycles.
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.