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Map reveals tunnels will supply water for agribusiness, fracking

by Dan Bacher
Adam Scow, California Campaigns Director for Food and Water Watch, said, “It's unfair for the Governor to make Californians subsidize water use and abuse by corporate agribusiness and oil companies, especially in a drought and in a bad economy."
Map reveals tunnels will supply water for agribusiness, fracking

by Dan Bacher

Much of the area that the oil industry could frack for oil and natural gas in California is located in and near toxic, drainage-impaired land farmed by corporate agribusiness interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, Restore the Delta and Food and Water Watch revealed on March 4.

The groups, who oppose Governor Jerry Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels, released a new map that shows that 35-mile long twin tunnels would mainly supply water to the largest agribusiness users of Delta water exports, land impaired by toxic selenium concentrations that make farming unsustainable, and the oil and gas basins where the energy industry could expand the environmentally destructive practice of fracking (hydraulic fracturing).

The maps were released at a time when Governor Brown is fast-tracking the construction of the peripheral tunnels and backing the fracking of California. In September, Brown signed Senate Fran Pavley’s Senate Bill 4, legislation that anti-fracking opponents say gives the green light to fracking in California.

Before Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 4, Brown accepted at least $2.49 million in financial donations over the past several years from oil and natural gas interests, according to public records on file with the Secretary of State’s Office and the California Fair Political Practices Commission. (

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta (RTD), told reporters in a teleconference the significance behind the map. (

“This map shows a remarkable overlay of where our water is going, how the public subsidizes unsustainable crops on drainage-impaired lands, selenium concentrations that pose a threat to the public, and underlying oil deposits that could be fracked with water from the governor’s tunnels," she said. “Unsustainable farming has damaged these lands. And the taxpayers have been subsidizing it.”

“The fracking sites line up perfectly in the Valley with where the governor wants to export this water,” added Steve Hopcraft, a spokesman for Restore the Delta.

Barrigan-Parrilla said fracking is another “water intensive industry” in the San Joaquin Valley that will further contaminate groundwater supplies already impaired by selenium, nitrates, pesticides and other pollutants.

“The governor's plan describes water for fracking via the proposed peripheral tunnels as a beneficial use,” she stated, referring to the BDCP website. “Beneficial for whom? The peripheral tunnels would benefit unsustainable corporate agribusiness in one region and potentially the energy industry – at the expense of everyday Californians.”

Barrigan-Parrilla said the map shows the largest agricultural users of water exported from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta "all are irrigating land impaired by concentrations of selenium that will make farming increasingly unsustainable. These drainage-impaired lands, however, sit on top of oil and gas basins that underlie the San Joaquin Valley.”

“The $60 billion tunnel project will not benefit the SF-Bay Delta estuary, or its surrounding communities and urban areas. It will not benefit San Joaquin farming communities that do not have access to clean drinking water. And it will not benefit urban ratepayers within the Metropolitan Water District or the Santa Clara Water District, as they will pay for a disproportionate share of the tunnels project,” she stated.

She also said methods of energy extraction, including fracking and steam extraction, require “significant quantities of water and produce contaminated water, which would further render San Joaquin Valley groundwater basins unusable for farm community residents who already do not have access to clean drinking water.“

Oil industry claims little water used for fracking

The oil industry minimizes the amount of water used for fracking, contending that fracking uses relatively little water. The Western States Petroleum Association, the largest corporate lobby in Sacramento, also claims that fracking is safe and environmentally friendly.

“Hydraulic fracturing does not use large volumes of water, at least not in California,” claimed Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and former chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force to created so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California.

“All of the hydraulic fracturing that occurred last year used less than 300 acre feet of water, according to the California Department of Conservation. That’s about the same amount of water needed to keep two West Coast golf courses green,” said Reheis-Boyd, in her latest piece on the WSPA website, entitled, “Oil Production and the Drought: We Get It,” (

Reheis Boyd also claimed, "The Department of Conservation also found that California uses 'much less water' and fluid than other states where hydraulic fracturing is currently underway. Strict standards ensure that proper well casings are in place to protect surface and fresh water.”

However, fracking and peripheral tunnels opponents point out that reporting of water used for fracking is voluntary, so the California Department of Conservation’s figure is virtually meaningless.

Adam Scow, California Campaigns Director for Food and Water Watch, revealed that Kern County, where 70 percent of California's oil reserves are located, used 150,000 acre feet of water in 2008 alone. Most of this water comes from the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project that obtain their water from the Delta.

“When you consider that 8 barrels of water are used for every barrel of oil extracted, you could be getting into millions of acre feet used for fracking oil wells,” he noted.

Barrigan–Parrilla said that if 30,000 potential fracking sites were utilized, that could result in an additional 450,000 acre feet of water used, considering that each fracking operation uses 15 acre feet of water.

She also noted that the industry has used four times the amount of water that it has claimed it employs in Colorado and other states where fracking has been used to extract oil and natural gas.

Scow emphasized, “It's unfair for the Governor to make Californians subsidize water use and abuse by corporate agribusiness and oil companies, especially in a drought and in a bad economy."

Westlands and Kern County receive bulk of Delta water exports

In addition to showing the overlay of drainage impaired land and oil and gas basins in the San Joaquin Valley, the map also demonstrated that just two of the water export contractors, Westlands Water District and Kern County Water Agency, used a larger percentage of water, 55 percent, than the urban districts serving Los Angeles (Metropolitan Water District) and Santa Clara Valley (Santa Clara Valley Water District) combined, who used 45 percent.

“From 2000 to 2009, Westlands and Kern County Water Agency received an average 1,788,000 acre feet of exported water from the Delta, whereas Metropolitan Water District and the Santa Clara Valley Water District (home to tens of millions of Californians) received on average 1,400,000 acre feet of exported water from the Delta,” she stated. “Total Delta exports for this period were 5.2 million-acre feet on average, with over 3 million acre-feet of water on average going to these agribusiness districts.“

During the 2010 State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) hearings, participating scientists from fishery agencies and NGOs reached consensus that the Delta needed additional flows for fisheries to be restored. Delta exports would need to be cut to 3 to 3.5 million acre-feet to achieve those additional needed flows.

The Environmental Water Caucus Responsible Exports Plan, backed by Restore the Delta and Food and Water Watch, sets a cap of 3 million acre feet per year for Delta exports, while ensuring the meeting of California’s water needs through increased conservation, recycling, the retirement of drainage impaired land and other measures.

Barrigan-Parrilla said the continuing irrigation of drainage impaired lands will set the stage for environmental disaster by imperiling wildlife and fish populations, including Central Valley salmon and steelhead and Delta fish populations.

“Selenium contamination from unsustainable farming in Westlands and Kern threatens farming in neighboring areas, water quality and wildlife, and a repeat of the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge disaster is possible,” Barrigan-Parrilla said. “The majority of lands with the highest selenium concentration fall within the boundaries of the Westlands Water District and the Kern County Water agency. Selenium-laden land that drained polluted water into wildlife areas caused the tragedy in Kesterson 25 years ago – birds in the wildlife refuge born with deformities."

“The drainage-impaired lands within Westlands drain back into neighboring water districts, and then back into the San Joaquin River. This polluted water makes its way back down the San Joaquin River, draining into the South Delta, loading the Delta with additional salt concentrations and pollutants that are extremely harmful to fisheries,” Barrigan-Parrilla observed.

It’s time to change direction

Meanwhile, the Governor continues to push the peripheral tunnels and the expansion of fracking in California. The two organizations called upon Governor Brown to “change direction and instead of subsidizing unsustainable agriculture and fracking, invest in policies that create regional water independence.”

In an action backing up the two groups’ opposition to the peripheral tunnels, a state advisory panel including scientists, Tribal leaders, commercial fishermen and recreational anglers on February 26 slammed the Bay Delta Delta Conservation Plan for leading to the decline of imperiled stocks of Central Valley salmon.

The California Advisory Committee on Salmon and Steelhead Trout has recommended that Director of Fish and Wildlife Chuck Bonham deny the incidental take permit for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan Alternative 4, claiming that the plan does not meet the requirements of a Natural Communities Conservation Plan and therefore cannot be approved because it will contribute to the further decline of Sacramento River winter run and spring run Chinook salmon. (

The letter states, "BDCP promotes the unproven scientific hypothesis that habitat restoration can substitute for flows. However, the State Water Resources Control Board has already indicated that Delta inflows and outflows are presently insufficient to help listed species recover their former abundance. BDCP would reduce Delta outflow, which contributes to the decreases in salmon smolt survival rates modeled by BDCP."

The Restore the Delta map can be viewed here:

The Food and Water Watch map can be viewed here:

Background on fracking and oil industry money

For those not familiar with the practice, fracking blasts massive amounts of chemical-laced water into the ground to crack rock formations in order to extract oil and natural gas. according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The process routinely employs numerous toxic chemicals, including methanol, benzene and trimethylbenzene. Fracking has been documented in 10 California counties.

Oil companies have also fracked offshore wells over 200 times in the ocean near California’s coast, from Seal Beach to the Santa Barbara Channel, according to a Freedom of Information Act Request and media investigation by the Associated Press and last year. WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd served on the MLPA Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Forces during much of the time that this fracking of our marine waters was taking place.

The Center cited two studies documenting the harm fracking poses to human health. Birth defects are more common in babies born to mothers living near fracked wells, according to a new study by researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health. In California, a recent Center report found that oil companies used 12 dangerous “air toxic” chemicals more than 300 times in the Los Angeles Basin over a period of a few months.

Besides posing a big threat to human health, the pollution to California groundwater supplies, rivers and the Delta that will result from fracking and acidization will devastate already imperiled populations of Central Valley Chinook salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species.

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the most powerful corporate lobbying organization in Sacramento, spent over $4.67 million, more than any other interest group, while lobbying state government in 2013, according to data released by the Secretary State's Office and compiled by the Capitol Morning Report.

Another oil company giant, Chevron Corporation and its subsidiaries, spent $3.95 million, the third most spent by any group on lobbying state government in 2013. Chevron also spent much of its money on lobbying against bills that would ban or regulate fracking in California.

Since it is the most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento, the oil industry is able to wield enormous influence over state and federal regulators and environmental processes. The result of this inordinate money and influence is the effective evisceration of the Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 during the MLPA Initiative process and the signing of Senator Fran Pavley's Senate Bill 4.

A report recently released by the American Lung Association revealed that the oil industry lobby spent $45.4 million in the state between January 1 2009 and June 30, 2013. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) alone has spent over $20 million since 2009 to lobby legislators. (

For more information on oil industry power and money, go to:
Add Your Comments

Comments (Hide Comments)
by Beeline
If the Governor succeeds in getting the twin tunnels built then what happens to all the agricultural waste water it would create? There are planning documents in DWR files that sit there hidden, like sullen, gaunt mosquitoes just waiting to thrust their beaks into a nice juicy project in order to propagate the next phase of environmental terror.

In the late 1970's/early 1980's DWR kicked around the possibility of sending waste water from the San Joaquin Valley into the Carizzo Plain (now the Carizzo Plain National Monument) thus forming another "Salton Sea" - a mini ocean of toxic waste.

The Carizzo Plain was and is essentially the last refuge for the species made endangered by the habitat destruction caused by relentless agricultural, oil and urban development in the San Joaquin Valley. At the time it was thought too expensive in electric costs to pump a lot of water over the Avanel Gap (1900 ft over the Temblor Range). But times change as the political climate cycles back to total warfare on nature.

DWR also considered the possibility of building a huge reservoir in the Panoche Valley which would be flooded by waste water from the north end of San Joaquin Valley as well as a huge return canal that would transport waste water back to the Delta.

The destruction of California goes hand in hand with the destruction of democracy. We have already seen that the Governor would condemn private property to achieve his goal and know too that the National Monument status of the Carizzo Plain is not inviolate. The BLM still allows oil drilling and livestock grazing there. All the more proof that our government serves elite interests.

Too paraphrase a line from well know book- it would be easier to thread a king salmon through the eye of a needle than for a businessman to see the error of his ways. Indeed- California may break off and fall into the Pacific ocean-thus polluting it as well.
by Union Jack
Perhaps if we tell them to get ample water from desalinated Oceans, they will ignore the obvious solutions forever: ample water for all California and all coasts throughout the world. Perhaps they are forvever doomed to destroy the ecological organic balances of the entire web-of-life of our planet for their god of paper money and bitcoin.

Just keep on smilin and watch the planet go through its death throws (such as super fires, cyclones, hurricanes, typoons, glacial degredation, loss of polar ice, and extreme low and high temperatures) then keeps financing the nuclear fission atomic power, and burning the fossil fuels till all the oxygen is gone.

Droughts forever says the minds of the past, and nothing really changes. Till its all gone. Workers don't wait till the temperatures of California goes over the top of 60 degree centigrade. temperatures per summer. Drought allouja!!
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