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The true cost of building the Delta tunnel can be found in what’s left of Owens Valley
mono lake sign
A sign at a state park on the south side of Mono lake marks where the shoreline of the prehistoric lake was at in 1959 when the lake’s elevation was at 6,400 feet. The lake’s shoreline is now hundreds of yards away with a water elevation of 6,379.2 feet.

INDEPENDENCE — High in the eastern Sierra in early July, rain and hail fell above the county seat of Inyo County.

It helped feed the stream that gives life to the community of 761 souls known as Independence that most view as just a wide spot on Highway 395 as you zip from Reno to San Bernardino.

The result of the early afternoon drenching served up with exclamation points of lightning bolts will also seeped into underground streams.

It is how a journey of years starts for that water to reach aquifers in the Owens Valley below to nourish the handful of ranches and farms.

They are what have been able to survive since the Los Angeles Aqueduct — the early 1900s version of the proposed myopic Delta tunnel plan — started sending water to the faucets of Los Angeles bungalows and mansions.

Paid state publicity hacks troll the Internet searching for anything questioning the Great Water Works Endeavor that corrects what they perceive as Mother Nature's foolish game to send precious life-sustaining liquid from the Sacramento River watershed into the Delta.

The give their keyboards intense workouts ridiculing any comparison between the state’s envisioned water re-engineering in the  Delta and what Los Angeles did to the Owens Valley for being as different as naturalist John Muir and mega-home builder Eli Broad.

But while the mechanics may differ, the two projects are mirror images of each other in that they divert significant water from nature's course to make one region a winner and another a loser.

Much ado has been made about the agricultural paradise that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power destroyed.

It is a myth repeated often including years ago in this column.

After 20 years of  hiking the Owens Valley it is clear the alkali soil and short growing season could not have turned the region into a lush farming paradise even if every drop of water that LA diverted was instead used to try and replicate the San Joaquin Valley.

Farming is not what LA destroyed or put on the critical list by diverting most of the water it takes from the region via sources in the northern Owens Valley long before it can trickle naturally through the length of the 120-mile valley that averages six miles in width.

It is nature itself.

Instead of taking water after it runs its course through the valley, LA took it out of nature's system as soon as possible. It was a move that assured no one else that still had water rights could touch it — not even the fish in the Owens River or Owens Lake —  in times of drought.

It also guaranteed the cost of getting water out of the valley would be cheap with no need of pumps and that the water entering the pipe for the long trip to the arid LA Basin would be the highest quality possible.

The Delta Tunnel, proponents argue, will keep water for LA intact during natural disasters. While they reference earthquakes, the natural disaster that imperils long-term water supplies the most are droughts.

They tout improved water quality as the fresh Sacramento River watershed water wouldn't mingle with the brackish water of the Delta or be tainted by run-off.

LA accomplished that with the water they take from the Owens Valley much to the detriment of the environment and remaining farmers and residents.

By bypassing the natural course of water flows in the Owens Valley by diverting water at  the northern most points possible, LA created a catastrophic environmental disaster at Owens Lake and pushed the viability of the Owens River itself to the edge.

The only reason either survive today as a whisper of their former selves is the court forced stewardship LA Department of Water & Power assumed after decades of litigation.

And if you need another example of how allowing LA to satisfy its thirst by preying on other regions can trigger environmental disasters, Mono Lake just north of Owens Valley underscores the foolishness of depriving Delta of its natural flows.

LA started diverting water in 1941 from creeks that feed Mono Lake. In just 50 years, the lake dropped 40 feet, was half its 1941 volume and salinity levels doubled. Exposed dry lake bed created dust issues.

Mono Lake —  a prehistoric lake considered by scientists as one of the oldest in North America — had survived millions of years only to face near extinction in a blink of an eye in the overall scheme of time due to LA growth.

Had court orders not stopped LA's destruction of the Owens River, Owens Lake, and Mono Lake in its myopic endeavor to exert total control over water it diverts, the life-sustaining industry of Mono and Inyo counties — tourism — would be dead today.

What LA needs to do is recycle all of its wastewater and develop salt water conversion plants.

Rest assured they will be much more careful with salinization plants and how they impact the environment in their own front yard than they would be with the Delta tunnel some 350 miles to the north.

The Delta tunnel will not create even an ounce of new water for LA.

What it does is assure that future droughts will have minimal impact on their water supplies as well as assure that "their water" won't be degraded by being used by others as well as the environment on its journey south.

Meanwhile, robbing the Delta the flow of the Sacramento River sooner before the last possible point it can be diverted south will create ecological disasters ranging from water quality issues and lose of wildfire to the destruction of farming.

Do not be fooled. The Delta tunnel is Owens Valley 2.0 but on steroids in terms of environmental and economic damage it will foist upon a region hundreds of miles away from The Sunset Strip and Beverly Hills.


 This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at