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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | Central Valley | Environment & Forest Defense
Water Wars: Hood California, The Town Los Angeles Drank
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan would bore two tunnels longer than the English-French Chunnel underneath the California Delta. The locals don’t like that, but their real worry is that the tunnels will be used to drain the Delta’s fresh water—in effect, wiping out the farmers here in favor of bigger southern producers. Their worries are NOT baseless…
"Everywhere you look in this part of the state, you see signs that read, "Stop the Tunnels! Save the Delta!" The tunnels would take at least 10 years to build, and the $15 billion price tag, which doesn't include $10 billion for habitat restoration, could go up, based on the experience of other underground projects like Boston's Big Dig. Huge construction vehicles would patrol the roads for a decade. There would be regular detours along River Road, a main thoroughfare. And at the end of all that inconvenience, there would be three massive industrial facilities flanking the river, jutting into adjacent fields.
The locals don't like that, but their real worry is that the tunnels will be used to drain the Delta's fresh water—in effect, wiping out the farmers here in favor of bigger southern producers..
...and drinking water for Los Angeles is the SMALLER part of Southern California's thirst. In some years the Southland has tapped 80% of the Delta's available water for agricultural use...
Hood, California, is a farming town of 200 souls, crammed up against a levee that protects it from the Sacramento River. The eastern approach from I-5 and the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove is bucolic. Cows graze. An abandoned railroad track sits atop a narrow embankment. Cross it, and the town comes into view: a fire station, five streets, a tiny park. The last three utility poles on Hood-Franklin Road before it dead-ends into town bear American flags. I've come here because this little patch of land is the key location in Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed $25 billion plan to fix California's troubled water transport system.
Hood sits at the northern tip of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a network of manmade islands and channels constructed on the ruins of the largest estuary from Patagonia to Alaska. Since the 1950s, the Delta has served as the great hydraulic tie between Northern and Southern California: a network of rivers, tributaries, and canals deliver runoff from the Sierra Mountain Range's snowpack to massive pumps at the southern end of the Delta. From there, the water travels through aqueducts to the great farms of the San Joaquin Valley and to the massive coastal cities. The Delta, then, is not only a 700,000-acre place where people live and work, but some of the most important plumbing in the world.
Without this crucial nexus point, the current level of agricultural production in the southern San Joaquin Valley could not be sustained, and many cities, including the three largest on the West Coast—Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose—would have to come up with radical new water-supply solutions.
Too much is being asked of the Delta. The levees that define the region's water channels are aging, and geologists and climate scientists worry that earthquakes or rising sea levels could rupture them. More immediately, the Delta ecosystem is collapsing. Native fish species are on the brink of extinction in part because of this massive water-transfer apparatus...
More, including details about California's water usage, interviews, at The Town Los Angeles Drank, MotherJones
Also highly recommended, Cadillac Desert, a history of US Western water policy with quite a few details about California's water supply. The book should still be available, and a Youtube playlist for the four-part PBS documentary of the same name about "water, money, politics, and the transformation of nature" based on the book is here.