No canal for Simitian yet
State Sen. Joe Simitian has been the sponsor of a new peripheral canal bill that failed in the state Assembly last week. Although Palo Alto, Simitian's hometown, gets its water from Hetch Hetchy, his district includes much of urban Santa Clara County, which gets northern California urban dwellers among the 20-25 million residents, north and south, who rely on the Delta for water.
Like his predecessor in office, Byron Sher, Simitian enjoys a reputation for impeccable environmental positions, which makes him a most attractive sponsor for a new peripheral canal, an environmental disaster.
If the logic escapes you, it is just California politics, particularly illogical when it comes to water.
The problem is that Santa Clara County, no more than Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, San Bernardino and San Diego counties, can supply water to its overpopulated regions without taking increasing quantities of it from the San Joaquin/Sacramento Delta, physically and ecologically collapsing under the pressure of the pumps.
Therefore, we have California water politics, one of the nation's more absurd thought forms. In this presidential election year the conflict was too great, so Simitian's bill was tabled. But, it will be back.
The conflict, although the Palo Alto senator carried the bill, is between northern andsouthern California and it keeps on getting worse. The north grows. Stockton, on the Delta, achieved the national record for foreclosure rate for another quarter. The south Bay Area grows. Southern California grows. Upstream users of Colorado River water grow and sell less surplus annually to Southern California and, if the agreement holds, there will be less in the future. Global warming may exist and may change snow and snow melt
patterns in the Sierra.
The state Legislature lost control of this situation years ago. State Senator Mike Machado wants to establish a state commission to oversee the Delta, to replace the failed CalFed coalition of state and federal resource agencies. But that won't work either. The Hun Our Governor's blue ribbon Delta Vision Committee will make its report soon, recommending a peripheral canal. Even a full scale economic depression, which might stop growth and even partly reverse it, would only work for awhile.
Therefore, let Badlands Journal be the first we are aware of in this peripheral canal go-round to bring up a notion that tends to surface when that canal is debated: California is ungovernable on its most essential resource issue – water -- because it is too big. It should be split into at least two parts or, as in one of the last proposals we heard, three parts. As presently politically constituted, California is unable to think through and politically negotiate the problem of water because the south, desperate for water, controls the majority of the state Legislature regardless of party, while the water comes from the north. The north needs more political power than it has in the present legislature to protect its own water supply and quality, habitat and environment, and the south just needs more water. Typically, given the most materialist national
culture according to the SuperPower, a legend in its own mind, the simple dollar-and-sense argument is stronger than most others, however destructive it may be.
In fact, to do many of the things necessary to actually govern California once again, we need legislatures that understand and articulate regional interests. At present we have a legislature that cancels out regional interests and has produced a state of legislative idiocy instead of government. On water, northern and southern California cannot agree. Rather than continue this absurd mockery of state government that becomes weaker and less relevant each election cycle and more laughable to other states, we need to divide in order to properly represent legitimate regional interests. While we may have to relinquish our Baby Huey Complex, we will reward ourselves with government more likely to work because it will once again have a chance of representing genuine political interests.
Nearly 22 million people live in Southern California's eight counties. Seventeen million people live in Northern California's 50 counties. Northern California is not powerless to protect its own water supply and environment in the state Capitol, where Southern California dominates the Legislature, but it is always on the defense, constantly losing and forever in desperate political dramas in last-minute crisis on the issue. These
dramas in themselves, considering the real terms of the issue, are bogus, third-rate plays, suitable for performance only in skid-row Sacramento.
Meanwhile, 18 million people in five states upstream on the Colorado River from Southern California were successful several years ago in curtailing the amount of that river's water coming to Southern California because -- despite heavy lobbying by California -- their legislatures are not dominated by Southern California politicians. A natural political alliance would exist, particularly this summer when salmon fishing has been
closed on the Pacific coast of California and Oregon, between a state of Northern California and Oregon to protect an important economic resource. Insofar as SouthernCalifornia will keep demanding more Colorado River and Delta water despite whatever agreements are or have been reached, another alliance of states between Oregon, a state of Northern California, and the five upstream states on the Colorado Plateau would also exist to gently persuade by political means the state of Southern California that it has exceeded its limits of urban growth.
Would Southern Californians scream against such outrageous manipulation of their water supply by states in which it originates? This question brings up another: When did the developers of Southern California ever ask the existing citizens of that region if they wanted more growth and a future of permanent water restriction? Many of the most ardent environmentalists in Northern California today are refugees from rural areas in Southern California, which they saw destroyed by developers in a matter of years, not decades.
The question about the real sentiment of Southern Californians on development and water- supply issues raises the anterior question: To what local governments representing those people would the question have been asked? Southern Californians are probably the least represented at the level of county government of any region in the nation. To compare with the level of county representation in Northern California, Southern California should divide its eight counties into about 70 counties.
Why focus on counties rather than cities? Because counties historically represent stable geographical regions rather than unstably growing urban populations. And, for not yet incorporated areas, counties are the land-use authorities that decide how those areas will grow. Dividing the eight counties of Southern California into 70 real counties would add 62 land-use agencies, some of whom, at the request of their residents, might put some brakes on the catastrophic urban growth of the region -- not in terms of the
whole region but in terms of those areas within it of it these citizens can comprehend, their counties. Adding 62 counties to Southern California would also make graft much more difficult for developers and their lobbyists and local fixers to get local land-use permission to continue to build and create more demand for water originating in other states.
And think of all the wonderful names the people of Southern California would create for 62 more counties, names for local governments that reflect where they actually live and would be represented by people they are far, far more likely to actually know. Given threalities of resources, particularly water, these local land-use jurisdictions are likely, in the name of survival, to reject plans for reckless growth, because they would
have a voice and the opportunity for political reason in political structures that are small enough to listen to reason of suddenly powerful local constituencies.
This suggestion is no claim that 20 million Southern Californians are going to wake up in a new, smaller state with no Delta water the next morning, anymore than they woke up after the Colorado River Agreement with no water from that river the next morning. It does suggest that a smaller state of Northern California would have more power within the federation of the United States to bargain with federal agencies for how water
originating within its boundaries is allocated.
Obviously, none of this is likely to happen because our "Great Big Number One State" as former Gov. Pat Brown (1959-1967) used to call it, is not going to give up such status, even if it would be wiser to do so. There were historical reasons to encourage California population growth and even if those reasons have long ago outlived their purpose, the economy of the state has come to depend, hopelessly, on finance, insurance and real estate special interests (FIRE), which have a death grip on the state Legislature equal to or exceeding that enjoyed by the Railroad in the early 20th century. Yet California, starting with Southern California, overthrew the power monopoly of the Railroad.
Dr. Haynes believed that if political democracy could be established, social democaracy would follow, and poverty and injustice could ultimately be abolished. Largely through his charm and his prestige, and through a Direct Legislation League that was essentially his personal organization, Los Angeles was persuaded to adopt the initiative, the referendum, and the recall in its new charter of 1903.
This was the first provision for the recall in any government unit in the world, and the first adoption of the initiative and the referendum by a city ..." California: An Intepretive History, Walton Bean.
We are not naive enough to suggest Northern California counties are shining examples of land-use planning. Just to take the three northern San Joaquin Valley counties as examples of absurdly destructive growth, they are in the top five counties nationally for foreclosure rate as a result of the late speculative real estate boom and mortgage fraud era. But, that's just the rate; the greatest number of foreclosures is happening in
Southern California. During the boom, these three counties in northern San Joaquin Valley received no rational counsel from their legislators. At the congressional level, we had the Pomboza (Pombo and Cardoza) leading multiple assaults on the Endangered Species Act on behalf of the FIRE interests, and state legislators fell right in dutifully behind them, dragging alone the supervisors and city council members. But, what would have happened if the congressional delegation and state Legislature of a state of Northern California had existed during that rapacious economic moment, and had not been dominated by Southern California politicians? And, rather than uniting with Southern California politicans on certain important legislation for the whole of California, how would it have played out if Northern California members of Congress had been in open political conflict with them?
Furthermore, what if the motive of "building upstream" to command Northern California water resources for Northern California urban development had been weakened by a border and state power to protect resource supplies from Southern California? Would Northern California developers have felt the need or had the opportunity to exploit water resources in the same way?
When do the disadvantages of being the most populous state in the nation outweigh the advantages?
The judicial decisions now in place that limit to some extent the disastrous pumping from the Delta are a continuation of a necessary but imperfect use of the judiciary to make political choices on resource issues that, as our state is presently constituted, cannot be made. For example, a state of Northern California might have the power to stop northern California water agencies from retailing federally subsidized water to Southern California at will. A new state of Northern California would present an opportunity to clear up the mess of water law in the north. A state commission on the Delta, such as the northern California legislator Machado has suggested, might go farther toward fixing the ecological and economic disaster it has become if the members of the commission all had an interest in fixing it instead of being dominated by those more interested in exploiting it solely for FIRE special interests, much of which originate in Southern California. Without Southern California votes, Northern California urban counties, like Sen. Simitian's Santa Clara,
would look politically suicidal even suggesting a peripheral canal. In the event of such a split, the bond-debt California is now responsible for would have to be apportioned between the two new states. State resource agencies would be split and better able to focus on their smaller, less compromised tasks. Federal resource agencies would have to bargain with two states far more aware of their separate interests instead of hopelessly compromised by conflicting interests.
An entirely separate but, for some, delightful chore, would be the division of the University of California. Perhaps a state of Northern California would just get rid of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and bombing Site 300 for being the environmental and public health and safety disaster they are. The possibilities for sanity are endless in smaller states, whereas if California continues to grow at its present rate, it is more likely to become another Latin American country than remain a state within the federal system of the United States.
We realize that most people will regard such a suggestion as completely mad, impractical and politically impossible. It opens a huge "can of worms," requires an unimaginable amount of political energy, and would be profoundly disturbing to the way things are done in California. But, this sword of a peripheral canal constantly dangling over our head is, in our most humble opinion, a worse can of worms. It is a complete ecological and economic outrage. Southern California made its choices. In recent decades, these choices
have required complicity by northern California legislators and members of Congress.
The disaster of the Delta has occurred, just as predicted by the people who know the Delta. The only "mystery" in the whole disaster is how special interests have been able to dominate the California public to such a vast extent that it can no longer even bear to imagine its own completely legitimate political interests...because it might cause "controversy," and we have been convinced by armies of professional propagandists in the employ of FIRE that controversy is bad, bad, bad, when in fact it is the soul of
politics and government. The method used for domination of the public has been gigantic, reckless "development," which has filled the state with people without the roots of memory required to imagine any environment, community or lifestyle beyond the tract, the freeway, the mortgage, family and possibly church, in that order. What is frightfully missing from this view of life shared by the largest percentage of present Californians is any sense of political duty or public political power. It has produced a political situation in the state that is dangerously moribund and waits upon ecological catastrophe while contributing the largest amount of foreclosures to the global credit crisis.
California is one severe earthquate on the San Andreas from a disaster that will dwarf what happened in New Orleans. The consequences to the insurance industry are incalculable.
If those crumbling Delta levees collapse due to earthquake or flood, there would be no better evidence in the world that Pat Brown should have been presiding over the splitting of the state 40 years ago rather than crowing about "this great big Number One state of ours." But, in those days, growth still meant improvement and democracy in the state was still sufficiently vital constantly to remind the governor and the legislature who was boss. That waned with "Hollywood" Reagan and has exhausted itself since into puny utterance composed of nine-tenths denial of reality.
Why did the people of the state permit term limits, rammed down their throats by a plutocratic oligarchy? Although northern Californian firms were involved, particularly from Silicon Valley, the thoroughly corporate style of this takeover originated in LA development flak, where, from the perspective of the little people of northern California, democracy no longer exists and representative government is pure PR fraud.
Since the well-known substance flows downhill, we see the style in local elections and call it political pollution in extreme bad taste. We don't want it. Splitting the state would give the natural democratic urges of Southern Californians a chance to recover their roots in a democratic tradition said to be central to what the United States is all about. We cannot fight that fight for them. They will have to do it themselves.
We little people up here in the north see that Speaker Nunez and Gov. Hun's fabulous AB 32 about global warming is just the highest grade plutocrat oligarchy flak in the whole world, worthy of Aristotle's description of the unintended consequences of witless Spartan and Carthaginian lawmakers (Politics, Book II). The proof is in the campaign for a peripheral canal, so devastating in the power it represents and the absurdity of its argument that it scares people who actually love the Delta into being ashamed of loving a
place, one of our anchors in time, a place to return to, to remember and to ground ourselves in for the coming contests in life, fortified with a New York steak smothered in mushrooms from Al the Wop's after stroll through Locke. There are people for whom it is a tragedy that the Boondocks in Walnut Grove burned down 40 years ago. There are people who still remember how one deputy sheriff managed the Delta from Freeport to the Antioch bridge. There are people, and not all Chinese, who derive inspiration from the
history of the people of Locke and the dilapidated grace and beauty of their homes. And then there is just the beauty, the isolation and the wildness of the Delta on a rainy winter day. To call this "heritage" is to diminish it. The Delta beauty speaks to humanity at a level much deeper than mere heritage, taken commonly to mean Anglo heritage since 1850. The magic of the Delta is that, despite its channelized river, it speaks to the terrible human need for wilderness near at hand, an hour from the city -- a place where one can escape a San Francisco apartment to camp in a howling wind and smell the wild.
But this is just our humble northern experience of California nature. The south has vast deserts and that beauty. I think of people like myself that found that same wildness at Joshua Tree or elsewhere in the south, and those anchoring memories.
Aren't we sick and tired of the death-dealing lobbyists, representing the plutocrat oligarchs of this bloated state, labelling the essential human feeling for nature "romantic," with a sneer? Forget them. The environmental public interest has been driven by volunteer necessity and sacrifice from the beginning. They will not understand it and they cannot defeat it.
Keep on walkin' the walk and talkin' the talk.
Badlands Journal editorial board
Canal concept back in limbo
Assembly panel rejects bill, asking state senator to try again next year...E.J. Schultz / Bee Capitol Bureau
An Assembly committee Tuesday shelved legislation to build a canal around the suffering Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, telling the bill's author to try again next year.
Two years in the making, Senate Bill 27 tackled a subject so politically charged that author Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, carefully avoided using the "P" word -- Peripheral Canal -- as he presented the bill as a way to shore up state water supplies without harming the environment.
But with environmentalists, farmers and delta-area interests all opposed for different reasons, the legislation went the way of so many other water bills -- to the shelf to wait for more studies...
Voters rejected a so-called Peripheral Canal in 1982, but the idea has drawn renewed interest recently as several groups take a closer look at the delta's woes.
There are many troubling signs. Declining fish populations have led to court-ordered pumping cutbacks. Elevated ocean levels, predicted as the climate warms, could cause floods. And the ever-present threat of a delta earthquake has water users on edge.
"The delta's going to hell in a handbasket," Simitian said. "There's a two-out-of-three chance that the whole system will collapse sometime in the next 50 years."
Committee members agreed with the urgency but said it would be wise to wait for a much-anticipated delta report. The Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, appointed by Gov. Schwarzenegger, is scheduled to release a "strategic plan" for the estuary in October.
Separately, the administration announced in February that it would start environmental reviews on several options for improving delta water flows. Possibilities include pumping water around the delta, both through and around it, or bolstering the existing system, which only moves water through the estuary.
Meanwhile, the Public Policy Institute of California will put out its own detailed delta report sometime this summer.
Urging Simitian to wait for more findings, the Assembly committee did not vote on his bill. He plans to scale it back to include only short-term fixes, like beefing up state plans to respond to a delta earthquake. He vowed to tackle the canal again in a new bill next year.
But finding consensus will prove tough, no matter how much new information is available. Farmers want assurances that they will still get access to enough delta water and not be charged too much for it. They objected to language in Simitian's bill that charged water agencies $50 an acre-foot, with proceeds going to a water quality and environmental fund.
Environmentalists worry that a new canal could hurt water quality, harming fish.
Delta-area residents, meanwhile, have long feared that a new canal is nothing more than a south-state water grab.
Tuolumne salmon at high risk of extinction...Editorial
Native salmon on the Tuolumne River are "at high risk of extinction" because not enough water flows down the river. That assessment introduces a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report released to The Bee on Thursday.
The report is likely to be a key component in a multiagency request for a rehearing of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order that allows the Turlock and Modesto irrigation districts to take no additional measures to ensure the survival of salmon through 2016. That order was issued last month, but state and federal agencies can request that it be altered through a rehearing; that request is expected to made by
Rarely does such unequivocal language appear in such a report. Using complex formulations and years of data, the study documents the possibility that there are no native-born salmon left on the river -- meaning the 115 to 211 (counts varied) salmon found this year were either raised in hatcheries or came up the Tuolumne by mistake...
Salmon stocks can be replaced with hatchery-raised fish, but they're not acclimated to the Tuolumne's conditions. As the study's author, Carl Mesick, points out, non-native fish don't reproduce as quickly. Native-born fish can repopulate a river much more rapidly, which is what happened on the Merced and Stanislaus rivers following the drought years.
Historically, salmon numbers spike two to four years after high springtime flows. But despite huge flows in 2004 and 2005, Tuolumne salmon numbers plummeted in 2006 and 2007.
That population crash mirrored a larger trend... Scientists blame, in part, changing ocean conditions that reduced the "upwelling" of foodstocks.
But recent ocean conditions can't entirely explain a crash that began on the Tuolumne in 2002. Instead, the Fish & Wildlife Service report points to inadequate releases from Don Pedro Reservoir.
In about half of all years, from 94,000 to 164,000 acre-feet flows out of Don Pedro. In the other half, releases exceed 300,000 acre-feet. Mesick's study says the minimum to sustain a viable native salmon population is 292,882 acre-feet -- or about 15 percent of the reservoir's annual storage.
Such calculations are subject to debate. But they provide an excellent starting point for FERC, the irrigation districts, and the agencies responsible for protecting wildlife.
FERC should grant the rehearing and pay particular attention to this study and the warning it sounds.
Los Angeles Times
Water rationing possible this summer
State official says shortage is worst he's seen in 30 years. Fast-shrinking snowpack and
below-normal reservoir levels are blamed...Deborah Schoch
California communities face a strong possibility of water shortages and even mandatory rationing this summer because of record dry weather in March and April, a fast-shrinking snowpack and below-normal reservoir levels, state officials said Thursday.
The bleak news, contained in California's final Sierra snowpack report of the snow season, means a second consecutive year of water anxieties in a state heavily dependent on water from the melting snow in the Sierra Nevada.
"I have not seen a more serious water situation in my career, and I've been doing this 30 years," said Timothy Quinn, executive director of the Assn. of California Water Agencies.
An outmoded delivery system and court rulings that protect endangered fish are also straining the system, he said.
"This is a harbinger of relatively tough times, not just for this year but for a set of years," Quinn said.
"We need to recognize that we're in a water shortage and begin to act accordingly," state Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman told reporters at a Sacramento news conference...
After a record-dry 2006-07 snow year, water managers had hoped this year would bring ample snow and rainfall to fill reservoirs and ease worries about water shortages. Those concerns have been exacerbated by a long drought in the Colorado River Basin and a federal court ruling curbing water deliveries from Northern California.
Cities throughout Southern California supplement their own local supplies with two major sources outside the region: Sierra water pumped south through the State Water Project, and water transported west from the Colorado River.
Los Angeles traditionally has gotten 30% to 60% of its water from the Eastern Sierra via the Los Angeles Aqueduct, but it still buys water imported from the north and east.
"I think we're all facing a worrisome water picture," said H. David Nahai, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power...
The Sierra Nevada snowpack has shrunk to 67% of normal, down sharply from 97% in late March, according to results of the snow survey, released Thursday by the state Department of Water Resources. The May 1 measurements are crucial in forecasting California water supplies as well as hydroelectric production, state officials said.
"That suggests that reservoir levels are not going to recover," state snow survey chief Frank Gehrke said. Lake Oroville, which stores much of the water delivered to Southern California, contains only 58% of the water normally there at this time of year.
Worsening the situation, dry weather last year has left soil inordinately parched, and runoff into streams and reservoirs is only 55% to 65% of normal, state experts said.
Spring sunshine and warm weather meant the snowpack melted more quickly and some snow converted directly to vapor, Gehrke said.
State meteorologist Elissa Lin fell short of officially declaring a drought. "It's been a very tough two years for water supply in California," Lin said. "All of these things are pointing in that direction. . . . Certainly, if we go into a third year, we're looking at some critical situations."
Further tightening water supplies, state deliveries to Southern California were slashed in December after a federal court decision last summer aimed at protecting endangered smelt in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger, who ordered those restrictions, is scheduled to hold hearings in June to decide whether to impose further cutbacks to protect chinook salmon and Central Valley steelhead trout.
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Delta canal idea revisited...Jennifer McLain
A decades old and unsuccessful conversation about building a canal that could bring more water to Southern California is being revisited. On Tuesday, a Senate committee agreed to shelve a bill calling for the construction of a canal around the Sacramento River, telling the author, Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, to wait for the findings of a Governor appointed task force that is examining solutions to the environmental and seismic problems in the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta.
"I think that it is tremendous progress that people are openly talking about it," said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. "For a while, it was a third rail, and no one would mention it.."
Voters rejected a bill for the Peripheral Canal in 1982. The word became so politically charged that many have veered from using the word and have started calling it a "bypass" canal or conveyance system, said Tim Quinn, executive director at the California Association of Water Agencies.
But a canal could be one of the answers to the Delta's many problems, including declining fish populations, rising ocean levels and concerns that the Delta will not be able to sustain a major earthquake.
"We are increasing living in a world where things have to work for the environment and the economy," Quinn said. "We need to change the system that we have today because it is very bad for fish." Water supply has been reduced due to low snow pack, little rainfall and a decrease in pumping of the Delta by 30 percent because of environmental issues.
"If the public doesn't want to be going year to year wondering whether we have to ration water, they need to understand that we need a more reliable water supply," Kightlinger said. "And the canal is one of the pieces to that."
Simitian's bill would have asked voters for a $4 billion bond to pay for environmental restoration of the Delta, and would have created a seven-person board to contract for the design and construction of a new facility to move water from the Delta to pumps that send water to cities and farms.
Some local officials said that while the canal could solve many of Southern California's squeeze on water, Simitian's bill did not have all the answers.
"The bill sounds good, the title sounds good, but it had several poison pills within the bill," said state Sen. Bob Margett, R-Glendora.
Among them is that the bill increases the fees for MWD, which imports water to nearly 18 million residents, and the proposed oversight overlaps with those of existing state and federal agencies.Those were some of the reasons why the local water giant did not support the bill.
"We were very pleased that Simitian took on the issue," Kightlinger said, "but we did not like his approach."
As lawmakers continue to look for solutions to the environmental challenges that the Delta faces, many believe the answer to anticipated water shortages will be found in regional sources.
"We've got to develop local supply," Quinn said, "because water supplies of the future will come from local resources."
This water supply will come as a result of more desalination, recycled water, groundwater cleanup and conservation programs. The San Gabriel Valley receives up to 30 percent of its water supply from the Delta and the Colorado River Aqueduct.
"Water has become like foreign oil," Assemblyman Mike Eng, D-El Monte, said. "The more that we are dependent on water from other areas, the more that we are subject to the roller coaster ride that involves politics, climate change and environmental issues."