Vicky Boyd, Staff Writer
Vicky Boyd, Staff Writer

They say history repeats itself, and if you don’t want to replicate a mistake, study history first.

I don’t call myself a California native, but I’ve lived here long enough to have seen history repeat itself when it comes to proposals to fix the state’s malfunctioning plumbing in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

It all stems from California being a land of haves and have nots when it comes to water.

Northern California receives the bulk of precipitation and has several large reservoirs to catch runoff and save it for use during the hot, dry summers.

Southern California, classified technically as a desert, has the bulk of the state’s population with only a few local water supplies.

The latest proposal from Gov. Jerry Brown, dubbed the twin tunnels, would build two 35-mile-long tunnels to pipe millions of gallons of Northern California water south under the delta. It would cost an estimated $14 billion.

As with earlier proposals, this latest one has proved divisive among residents and even growers and shippers.

“We need to defeat these tunnels and need to find a better solution to move water south,” said Bruce Blodgett, executive director of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau, Stockton.

The Westlands Water District, on the other hand, favors the project and sees it benefiting the district’s more than 600,000 acres of farmland west of Fresno.

Ironically, Brown, in his first stint as governor from 1975-83, proposed the Peripheral Canal, which would have built a canal to carry Northern California water south. Voters defeated the measure in 1982.

Then came the short-lived Duke’s Ditch from then-Gov. George Deukmejian in the mid-1980s, and now the twin tunnels.

Regardless of the name, these projects all seek ways to bypass the delta, a bottleneck of water movement.

At the moment, two giant pumps on the south end of the delta suck water in, dumping it into an aqueduct for transport south. In the process, fish also get sucked up.

Stuck smelt

It’s not a large number, but when it involves the federally protected delta smelt, a 3-inch-long fish that resembles bait, even one is too many.

When smelt start becoming trapped on pump screens, a judge shuts down or greatly reduces pumping for days or even weeks.

That’s a big reason why farmers south of the delta have received only a fraction of contracted federal water deliveries during the past several seasons.

The twin tunnels are being billed as a way to deliver water to those farmers and urban areas south of the delta without affecting the delta itself.

That’s where the San Joaquin Farm Bureau has issues, Blodgett said.

The project would idle 146,000 to 150,000 acres of farmland and would actually worsen water quality in the delta by diverting fresh-water flows from the north, he said.

Even though the project would make more water available to farmers south of the delta, Blodgett said it would be so expensive that most couldn’t afford it.

In fact, he said San Diego County water authorities have softened project support because its water price approaches that of desalination.

This is a debate that undoubtedly will continue for years to come, and we’ll see if history repeats itself or if state leaders actually learn a lesson by studying past mistakes.

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