Wednesday, September 3, 2014


Trail near Pounding Stone, San Joaquin River Gorge

     Voters could soon give the government the right to “take” property from a land owner and destroy it without either paying for it or providing the owner with comparable property as mitigation.   
     Hard to believe, but the legislation requires the land owner to pay for the destruction of her own property--while a few people who control certain “rights” benefit from a valuable commodity found on her land.
     The property contains Native American cultural resources, including pounding stones and sacred burial sites supposedly protected by law. The property contains environmental resources, including twenty-four rare, threatened, or endangered species, also supposedly protected by law, as well as a stunning river ecosystem. All of this could be lost if voters pass this legislation.
     Have you guessed who the property owner is?

San Joaquin River Gorge

     This land is your land! If Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond, passes, Temperance Flat Dam might be built and a public recreation area, the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area, might be buried under hundreds of feet of water.
     Let me be perfectly clear: The public could vote to destroy its own property for the private gain of vested interests who control the water rights. The supposed public benefit, with a price tag of $1.25 billion: Water for salmon! Dams have helped salmon so much, haven’t they? 
      (Imagine what kind of uproar would ensue if the government took away a farmer's property and turned it into a public park....)
     The hydraulic brotherhood, a cabal of farmers, lobbyists, and politicians, is hoping that the drought has scared the public into voting against its own interests. 
     Socialism for salmon? What’s next, welfare for delta smelt? Who or what will be sponging off of taxpayers next? 
     According to Doug Obegi of the NRDC, “the federal feasibility study for Temperance Flat estimates that this project would cost nearly $2.5 billion and would yield only 61,000 to 76,000 acre feet of water per year. "  Obegi goes on to say that, "In contrast, the state has estimated that $1.4 billion in water bond funding for integrated regional water management (IRWM) projects like water efficiency, water recycling, and groundwater cleanup over the past decade leveraged $3.7 billion in local funding and has helped save or create nearly 2 million acre feet per year.  Big new dams simply can’t compete economically with these regional and local water supply projects."
     Peter Gleik also points out that “400,000 acre-feet of water per year can be quickly conserved by urban users by replacing only some of the many remaining inefficient toilets, showerheads, commercial spray-rinse nozzles, and washing machines. These savings would require an investment of under $2 billion.”
     That’s not even half of what we could save through conservation measures. According to Gleik, “Another 600,000 acre-feet per year of water can be saved by applying smart irrigation scheduling to 30% of the state’s vegetable and 20% of the orchard acreage, practicing regulated deficit irrigation on 20% of current almond and pistachio acreage in the Sacramento Valley, and converting 20% of Central Valley vegetables and 10% of orchards and vineyards to drip and sprinklers. These changes would save water at a cost of around $100 per acre-foot.” Why so much effort over the past decade to build Temperance Flat Dam even though conservation measures could save a lot more water for a lot less money? The farmers with the water rights in this region cannot as easily get a hold of this other water.  
     The Fresno Bee has admitted that “much of the new water” created by a dam at Temperance Flat “is already spoken for.” In fact, the government has already allocated water rights for five times the amount of water that exists in the state, according to the Bee and others. What chance does the public have to benefit in any significant way if so much water is already “spoken for” in this bizarre system of water rights? 

Baby Blue Eyes, Popcorn and Fiddleneck, San Joaquin River Gorge

     Some believe that building the dam might create a kind of “trickle-down effect.” The farmers, in other words, would receive more water,  keep people employed and prices down. This is a kind of perverted socialism for those who own the land and means of production, a “socialism for the wealthy.” If the dam is built, taxpayers would once again hand over public resources, including money and land and water, to the rich, revealing again the attitude that some businesses are too big to fail. The price of the dam would be another subsidy that  supports unsustainable, water-intensive crops such as almonds. Of course, with this subsidy farmers could continue to provide those cushy menial jobs that so many people covet! Without this subsidy, the public might refuse to pay for their expensive crops, forcing farmers to implement water conservation measures and grow crops more suited to the region. This is capitalism, after all. Isn't it?
     The NRDC also points out that the dam will create very expensive water: "the water coming out of Temperance Flat would cost more than $1,500 per acre foot....Even with massive taxpayer subsidies, the Bureau of Reclamation estimates that water would cost more than $200 per acre foot for agricultural contractors (far more than these districts pay today, especially since the project would eliminate much of the cheap $10 per acre foot water that is provided in wet years)." As so many continue to point out, the cost of water produced by new dams would be far more than the cost of water generated from water recycling, storm water capture, groundwater storage, or water conservation projects.
     People are hurting. Those in favor of the dam point to the bread lines forming in the Valley, without mentioning how our economic system continues to marginalize workers, especially farm laborers. I feel great sympathy for the farmworker during a drought. Why don’t we create an effective safety net for the farmworker as well as the farmer?
      Remember the 1,400 dams and all the subsidies that we have already provided for the farmers? Remember that farmers use about 75 percent of the water in California?
     The Valley is a semi-arid region, practically a desert, and we have suffered through many a drought without our civilization collapsing. The people who came before us somehow managed both to survive and preserve public land. Were they better at spotting corruption or simply more courageous?  According to the NRDC, “Importantly, the water bond does not earmark funding for Temperance Flat or any other surface storage project.” However, if the bond passes, this storage project will be eligible for development and, due to the feasibility study and draft environmental impact statement already completed, one of the first on the list to be approved. Given the numerous efforts by the hydraulic brotherhood over the past decade to build this dam, which I have witnessed, I suspect that they will use all of their influence to get the dam approved. The danger? If the dam is approved, only a handful of already over-extended activists will make any effort to stop it, especially since the San Joaquin River Gorge is not widely known.
      So let's review. A "yes" vote on the $7.5 billion water bond could mean that you agree that taxpayers should subsidize agri-business interests again with billions of dollars. And you agree that we should destroy public land for the benefit of private interests. And you agree that we should spend more money for far less water than we can conserve. And you agree to allow our legislators, and the vested interests they represent, to trample our laws regarding endangered species and Native American burial sites. 
      You might not have ever visited Yosemite, but would you want to bury that gem of public land underwater, mainly for the benefit of a few private interests? You might not have ever visited the San Joaquin River Gorge, but like Yosemite, this majestic public park still belongs to you. In this case, your vote actually matters! 
     Our economy has survived every drought before now, and it will weather this one. We have time--time for the politicians who supposedly represent us to address our water woes in a way that truly benefits the public, not the top few percent.