Garamendi wants to defend Sacramento River
Water wars are expensive and most often fruitless, but U.S. Rep. John Garamendi said he is willing to throw down the gauntlet to stop the governor's plan to build two underground tunnels that he believes have the potential to suck the Sacramento River dry.
The ongoing fight over the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan took center stage at a water forum in Chico on Wednesday, hosted by the Butte County Department of Water and Resource and the Glenn County Water Advisory Committee.
The key component of the Gov. Jerry Brown's Bay Delta plan would allow water to be siphoned out of the Sacramento River and sent south through two tunnels — 30-miles long and 40-feet wide — capable of delivering 9,000 cubic feet of water per second.
Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said he agrees with just about everything the governor has done so far, but not a plan to steal water from the north and send it south.
"He's got this one dead wrong," Garamendi said.
Supporters, however, including Jerry Meral, deputy secretary of the California Resources Agency, believe the Bay Delta project will protect fish habitat in the Delta while assuring a more natural flow of water to the state's vital agriculture industry south of the Delta for the next 50 years.
"The Bay Delta Conservation Plan is an attempt to make our water supply more reliable," Meral said.
The $25 billion proposal, however, is not a comprehensive plan that addresses future water needs of all Californians, Meral said, which is why Garamendi called the plan the most "destructive environmental project to ever be seen in the West Coast, and possibly this nation."
"All we need to do is change direction," Garamendi told Meral. "It is possible to get the water that you need, but you don't have to steal it."
Garamendi said his water plan, which he released in March, is a comprehensive approach that includes water conservation, recycling, new storage projects, levee repair and improvements, all the while protecting water rights.
"It is a plan that will benefit all of California," he said.
Alternative solutions offered
Alternative solutions to solve the problems in the Delta were also offered by Ara Azhderian, water policy administrator for the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority and Jonas Minton, water policy adviser for the Planning and Conservation League.
Minton agreed with U.S. Rep. John Garamendi in that the solutions to the state water problem in the future should rely on a variety of measures, including conservation and storage.
But he also doesn't believe the expensive Bay Delta Plan will ever get the support from U.S. Fish and Wildlife and environmental agencies to move forward.
"It was projected to cost $3 billion and provide the water exporters 1 million acre-feet more water," Minton said. "Now, it's $25 billion with no guarantee or assurance that there will be any more water."
Azhderian, however, believes the plan is a viable solution to protect fish and provide water for agriculture operations below the Delta, and discounted concerns that water users would drain the Sacramento River because rules are in place that would never allow the water authority to take all the water the tunnels are capable of conveying.
"We are public agencies," Azhderian said. "We're not going to operate in a way that is going to pump the river dry."
Water rights a big concern
A number of audience members also expressed concerns Wednesday about Northern California water rights, preserving water sheds in the region, and maintaining sufficient water for Northern California's farms and fishing waters.
The audience was also deeply critical of the farmers in the Westlands Water District in Fresno and Kings counties who are shifting to more water intensive crops despite operating in parts of California that are naturally desert lands.
Elizabeth Deveroux, of Aqualliance, a non-profit organization formed to challenge threats to the northern Sacramento River watershed, said the siphoning of water from the Sacramento River would lower the ground water table, which would negatively impact family farms, people who rely on wells, communities, native flora and fauna, vernal pools and recreation.
"It has the potential to economically destroy our entire region," Deveroux said.