Combatants in New CA Water War Dig In

 Opponents call Governor’s Delta plan “plumbing before policy” and “a wink and a promise”

Craig Miller

Opponents to Governor Brown's Delta plan were gathered on the Capitol steps within an hour of the announcement.

You can hear a one-hour discussion of the proposed Delta plan on KQED’s Forum.

“You’ve launched a war. We’ll fight the battle,” was the rallying cry from congressman John Garamendi, within hours of the announcement of Governor Jerry Brown’s revised plan for California’s already embattled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Brown was flanked by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and officials of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration in rolling out a plan which Brown’s Natural Resources Agency says, “will undergo a rigorous public environmental review.” The plan’s centerpiece is a long-debated tunnel to shuttle water from the Sacramento River, north of the Delta, to the vast plumbing system that carries water to farms in the San Joaquin Valley and cities in Southern California. The conveyance is touted as a way to protect fish from the voracious pumps that fill the canals heading south.

Opponents were quick to muster their troops in Sacramento and Washington. On the steps of the state Capitol, Delta congressman John Garamendi fired a classic shot in California water wars, telling a crowd of tunnel opponents and onlookers that Brown’s plan is, “the junior water rights-holders once again making a grab for northern California water — that’s what it’s all about.” The “junior rights-holders” he referred to are the agencies and contractors who supply Delta water to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

“They have put plumbing before policy,” said Garamendi. Invoking the film, “Field of Dreams,” he said, “They intend to build it and then figure out how it can be used.”

How it might be used troubles the Delta Democrat, who calculates that the combined throughput of the twin tunnels could easily divert half the volume of water that typically flows past Sacramento toward the Bay.

“We can’t let it happen,” said Garmendi. It’s the Delta. It’s the lifeblood of the SSJD and SFB. There’s a better way of doing it. Let the science dictate what should happen.”

“I want to get s**t done,” Brown told reporters at the announcement.

Brown and his federal flankers insist that the plan is “grounded in science,” and an improvement over previous proposals. Planners are, “closer then ever to forging a lasting and sustainable solution,” said Salazar in a news release.

Lois Wolk wasn’t buying it. The Democratic state senator from the Delta region said the plan, “stakes the future of the Delta on a wink and a promise. ‘Trust us,’ they say,’ to build two gigantic tunnels now, take the water, and protect the Delta later.”

Wolk said in the balance are billions of dollars in “higher water rates” and borrowing. She said more of California’s long-term water solution should lie in the “vast potential” of water conservation, recycling, and other technologies such as desalination.

Republican assemblyman Bill Berryhill, who farms his own patch of the Delta, voiced concern that the project, estimated at $14 billion, would become “another Bay Bridge,” a reference to the new San Francisco Bay Bridge currently under construction at a cost that has increased six-fold since it was first approved.

But the Governor waved off the naysayers with impatience and an unusually public expletive. “I want to get s**t done,” he told reporters at the announcement, “and I want to get this thing done the best I can, all right?”

And just in case you’re among the eight-in-ten Californians that can’t quite conjure up a mental image of the Delta or why it’s important, KQED’s Matthew Green has an expansive backgrounder  posted at The Lowdown.