Take a trip down the backbone of the Sierra to Owens Valley.
It is there that the first great effort to quench the thirst of Los Angeles by importing water hundreds of miles away took place. The transfer of water by essentially putting a “conveyance system” in place as they are now talking about doing in the Delta turned Owens Lake into a dust bowl, devastated farming, and ruined a valley that once was thought capable of rivaling the San Joaquin Valley in terms of development potential.
It was done so the lucrative citrus groves of the San Fernando Valley in the 1920s would be irrigated and the ever growing Los Angeles would have water to fuel its growth. The people had no say in what was about to happen to their valley through the transfer of water. Their fate was hammered out in backrooms hundreds of miles away far from the eye of the public that was impacted the most.
Rest assured the people of the Owens Valley can tell you a thing or two about trusting outside agencies to decide the fate of water flowing through your community.
Fast forward to today. This week thousands of pages of environmental documents are going to be released pertaining options for cutting the Delta out of the picture so water can flow freely to Southern California and South San Joaquin Valley west side corporate farm interests. A decision by bureaucrats by year’s end is expected to determine the route and type of vehicle that a “conveyance” system through the Delta will take so LA can mainline Sacramento River water without worrying about the pesky locals in San Joaquin County and the other four counties that constitute the Delta using even an ounce of it.
Just like in the Owens Valley back in the 1920s, there will be public comments. And - just like in the Owens Valley - what the locals have to say will matter less than a hill of beans.
It’s because the water thieves have found a way around answering to the public as a whole. Peripheral Canal 2.0 isn’t going to a statewide vote. Instead non-elected state officials will decide its route and form. They will use some perviously approved bond money such as that from Proposition 13 passed in 1998 that was supposed to address flooding in the southeast Delta but never did to help build whatever they come up with. That won’t be enough so they will simply have the end users - water districts getting the water - pay for the rest of it.
Of course, if they balk at the cost it would kill whatever deal they come up with. But let’s get real. Water is more valuable than oil. It keeps going up in value in California. If the price of getting total control over it means they might actually have to pay a bit more today for taking it away from everyone else who can no longer put up a fight thanks to it not being on the ballot, it is a small price to pay.
We will be told, of course, that they are only doing what is best for all of California. Don’t look now but the Los Angeles Water & Power Department essentially said the same things to the folks in the Owens Valley.
They say trust them. Given the state’s record on Delta-related issues as they pertain to local jurisdictions you can trust them just about as much as you can trust a drug addict to guard a pharmacy.
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.