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Editorials

Don’t count on demise of tunnels to stop state’s water grab

We’re glad Westlands Water District voted against funding Gov. Jerry Brown’s twin tunnels. They don’t deserve to be built.

Yes, the Delta desperately needs fixing. Yes, salmon are losing ground in Northern California – a calamity tied to both climate change and how we all use the state’s limited water supplies.

But it would have been impossible for the governor to have kept all the promises he made in trying to sell his California WaterFix. And that is why Westlands’ directors voted 7-1 not to spend $4 billion to build Brown’s peripheral tunnels.

The tunnels, if your name is van Winkle, would siphon water from the Sacramento River – which provides 80 percent of the Delta’s flows – south before it ever reaches the Delta. With each tunnel measuring 40-feet wide, they would be capable of taking the entire river.

Gov. Brown tried once before to send the Sacramento south, putting the Peripheral Canal Act on the ballot in 1982. Voters crushed it. This time he sidestepped them by promising that only “end users” would pay for the $17.1 billion project. Taxpayers would be out nothing, so they got no say.

Among those end users were the 600 farmers of Westlands; their share was $4 billion. For that, Gov. Brown promised they would get exactly no additional water – just the same amount but more consistently, droughts be damned.

He also promised environmentalists that the Delta wouldn’t suffer. Turning off those giant pumps, he said, would fix everything. He didn’t bother explaining how you save a water-based environment by removing so much water.

We’re glad Westlands didn’t buy it.

Still, some bureaucrats are vowing to carry on their uphill fight.

Those who live in and around the Delta are delighted, one called it “a very good day for California.”

What does it mean for people living in the Northern San Joaquin Valley?

We’re waging our own water war with the state over how much of our rivers should be flowing through the Delta into the ocean. If more of the Sacramento had been sent south, it is certain that more of our rivers would have been required to make up the difference.

But don’t for a moment believe the state will back off its demands to double outgoing flows from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers. The state has long insisted the issues are unrelated (an insistence we found as convincing as claims you can save the Delta by taking water out of it).

Our water districts are negotiating, willing to devote more water to saving temperature-sensitive salmon. But we’re told the state is no longer listening as it prepares to announce its decision, possibly in October. We’re not hopeful.

Yes, the Delta must be fixed and more of our water must be shared. But the place to start fixing the Delta is in the Delta – not before the water reaches it from either north or south. If this governor wants a California WaterFix, then he should build more storage (above and below ground), fix the infrastructure that carries water to where it’s needed and tear down some of the levees that long ago destroyed Delta marshes and estuaries. Such actions would show us he’s serious about saving the Delta, lessening flood threats and providing more water for everyone.

Westlands did the right thing, dooming tunnels that do not deserve to be built. Soon, our residents will be required to do what is necessary to protect both salmon and our way of life. We’ll do the right thing, too.

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