Digging a deeper Delta hole
The Stockton Record
State's push for Delta bypass system increases landowner mistrust
A new round of land access requests have gone out from the state so water officials can poke holes in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. That means we can expect a new round of lawsuits.
The state wants access to private property so workers can drill test holes along a 43-mile north-south route through the Delta, roughly from Freeport in Sacramento County south to the Old River northwest of Tracy.
What's being measured is the feasibility of a pair of tunnels beneath the Delta. State officials, especially Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, like to call what's being considered a "conveyance system." What it really is is an underground version of the controversial peripheral canal to take water from the north, bypass the Delta and send it south to farms in the south Valley an people and industry in the south state.
This bypass wouldn't add a drop of water to the system statewide. Not a drop.
This worries some people because of what it could mean to the fragile Delta ecosystem, including its water quality. Unfortunately, it doesn't worry enough people or the right people. That is, not enough of those in power in Sacramento are worried about the Delta. And it's a good bet that most of the millions of south state voters who sent those officials to Sacramento couldn't find the Delta if you handed them a California map and a magnifying glass.
Among those who are worried, however, are those who farm the Delta, those who use it for recreation, those who depend on nearby groundwater wells and those who think the largest freshwater estuary in the western United States is something deserving protection.
In actuality, since about two-thirds of the state's 37 million residents depend on the Delta's water, everyone should be worried.
Part of that worry is being expressed by landowners. The state sued to gain access to drill the test holes. Those cases, more than 150, have been clustered together and are pending in San Joaquin County Superior Court. The latest round of 160 access requests - including 39 to San Joaquin County landowners - could trigger more suits if owners block access.
The peripheral canal, er, conveyance system, er, tunnel, is not a done deal. For one thing, the state is decidedly short of money to build it, estimated to cost between $7.3 billion and $12.3 billion. An $11.1 billion water bond proposal that was to go before state voters in November probably will come off the ballot because legislative leaders and the governor realize it will not pass.
What some see as a Delta water grab using a tunnel or some other system to bypass the Delta was not specifically part of a package of five water bills passed by the Legislature. But there was enough enabling language in the bills to make it clear this is the direction state leaders want to move.
Area lawmakers were cut out of the talks that went into those bills, a clear indication that the leadership could count votes inside the Legislature and in the south state. And in the south state, where concern for the Delta is somewhat lower than the perceived need to hose down sidewalks, there simply are enough votes to come and get the water. Ask residents of the Owens Valley or those on the downstream end of the Colorado River.