As the continuing drought puts incrementally more pressure on California’s shrinking water supply, strident voices on every side are hurling accusations left and right, some of which landed recently on the ears of some members of the House Natural Resources Committee, conducting a field hearing on “Immediate and Long-Term Relief for Drought-Impacted San Joaquin Valley.”
Barbara Barrigan-Parilla might be considered one of those strident voices. She is also the executive director of Restore the Delta (RTD), a coalition of environmental and farming interests adamantly opposed to the twin-tunnel water siphon being proposed as an engineering solution to California’s chronic water shortage.
Strident or not, Barrigan-Parrilla is challenging the absence of good science and the abundance of self interest currently driving the Delta agenda. In her testimony, she criticized the House Committee for its exclusive focus on south-of-Delta water exporters, stating, “There’s not enough water to keep salt out of the Delta and deliver water to Firebaugh at the present time. The south-of-Delta growers who rely on water exports don’t have water this year because they over-used Delta water last year, exceeding the amount that the State said was safe. Now, they want the rest of us to pay for their miscalculation.”
Barrigan-Parrilla told the Committee, “This committee is blinded by its desire to serve a few huge industrial agribusinesses. The decline of our fisheries is a red-alert warning that water mismanagement threatens all of us: farmers, fishermen and urban residents. Taking more water out of the Delta is not going to solve our problems. It’s the drought, not the Delta, that’s affecting the water supply this year.”
She went on: “Unfortunately, no discussion is focused on the needs of Delta farming and fishing communities, coastal fishing communities or the health of the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary. No discussion is intended to focus on gross mismanagement by the Department of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation that has helped bring us to the precipice during this water crisis. There is no focus on how upstream reservoirs at the beginning of 2013 were over 100 percent of historical average storage, and how by the beginning of 2014 they were at dangerously low levels. This Committee should investigate how the State has promised five times more in water rights than there is water available in the system during years of average rainfall.”
And on: “This Committee should examine how, even in 2013, the Westlands Water District continued to plant almond trees, bringing their total almond acreage to 79,000 acres, despite knowing they are only guaranteed surplus water in the system.
“There is plenty of talk about how the Delta tunnels, part of the mis-named Bay Delta Conservation Plan, will bring growers water reliability. But, if the tunnels were already constructed they would be dry today, they would not protect fisheries, and the Delta region would be transformed into an industrial eyesore. We cannot build our way out of droughts.”
Strident? Perhaps. Critical questions to answer before more multi-billion dollar plumbing is installed?
We think so.