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.
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.