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The Sacramento Bee
Viewpoints: Brown tries to roll Delta in rush to dig tunnels
By Stephen Heringer
Special to The Bee
Originally Published Wednesday, May. 29, 2013
I am the fifth of six generations of the Heringer family to farm the soils of the Clarksburg Delta. At the turn of the previous century, 100 years ago, my grandfather was already the third generation of our family to farm Clarksburg soils. At that time, the vast expanse of the western half of the California Central Valley was still a desert, and the Los Angeles Basin boasted a population of only 420,000 people. Our forefathers built communities, reclamation districts, flood-control infrastructure, and farming operations in a manner that promoted both sustainability and environmental sensitivity in the beautiful California Delta.
Clarksburg has been living with the bull’s-eye squarely on its back for the past several years, and it has been extremely frustrating attempting to participate in a Bay Delta Conservation Plan process shrouded in secrecy, conjecture, dubious assumptions, and based on half-truths, or no truth at all.
I am especially put off by Westlands Water District’s apparent conclusion that Delta agriculture is somehow less valuable than that of the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. Delta agriculture has a stellar 150-plus year record of producing dozens of varieties of quality fruits, vegetables, grains and forage crops feeding our hungry state, nation, and world. The Delta estuary remained healthy until the advent of exported water, and has only deteriorated badly within the past two decades of dramatically increased water exports.
As Delta residents, we have been strong proponents of the need for additional on and off-stream water storage, and the continued use of the through-Delta system, with necessary channel dredging to ensure strong levees, coupled with necessary changes in export pump screening and operations to protect the estuary and fish species.
The Delta region is often admonished to trust the political and legislative process, but water storage and supply promises have been broken. As originally conceived, 5 million acre-feet of “new water,” supplied from North Coast rivers, was to supplement Sacramento River water to supply water for export in wet years. Those millions of acre-feet never materialized, but the Department of Water Resources buckled under political pressure, and issued new contracts to municipalities and water agencies for many millions of acre-feet of water that have never existed in the system.
This is the root cause of the collapse of the Delta and our Pacific fisheries that depend on fresh water outflows from the Delta. Now, the governor proposes to “solve” that problem by sending those same huge volumes of water under the Delta, including condemning land for “habitat.” That’s not a solution, but a continuation of the practice that caused the problem.
The Delta region has been locked out of the BDCP process, which has been a concerted effort to manufacture science that proves the intended outcome, and then provides a 50-year grace period from environmental review.
Delta residents’ comments and concerns at scoping and planning meetings have gone unanswered and ignored. Now we are now supposed to trust the future viability of our farms and ranches and allow the state’s politically driven agenda to pursue unproven and uncharted goals.
I fear the continued destruction of the Delta, our farms and our way of life. I foresee continued environmental degradation if the peripheral tunnels are built, which will divert outflows of water needed to support salmon and other species. I shudder to think of the disruption to our agriculture through condemnation, salt intrusion, and decades-long construction upheaval of this massive project. I grit my teeth when I think of the total control of the Delta estuary falling into the hands of the now politicized and compromised state Department of Water Resources.
I call upon the governor to choose a better path forward, to engage in the vetting process of several alternative proposals that are viable and much more cost-effective than the current BDCP proposal. We continue to support a through-Delta water facility using existing channels, combined with increased water storage programs.
New hydrologic engineering could mitigate reverse flows in the Delta, and screened export pumps would provide increased species protections. We recognize the value of maintaining a strong levee system to protect the state’s water supply and the Delta environment. We have continually sought solutions that protect the Delta and its agricultural and environmental communities, while providing for the common good of all Californians.
Stephen F. Heringer is a farmer and wine grape grower of Heringer Estates of Clarksburg.