River News

Tour of the Delta showcases what’s at stake for California

May 8, 2013

Galen Kusic

California Delta

Restore the Delta hosted a tour Friday and through the weekend of the Delta to train water advocates and show those that haven’t experienced the Delta what is truly at stake for the majority of California’s water supply.

The tour, which started out by bus on Hwy 4 eventually came to Walnut Grove where the Rose Marie houseboat out of Discovery Bay took 30-plus attendees on a tour from the Walnut Grove Dock to Bethel Island. Jeff Hart, Delta organic farmer narrated the houseboat tour.

“We reached out to the general public from the northernmost to southernmost pockets of the state,” said Restore the Delta Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla.

The stunningly beautiful trip on the water traveled up the Sacramento to Three Mile Slough, through False River and back through Taylor Slough to eventually reach the Rusty Porthole on Bethel Island. RNH columnist Jay Sorensen also took RNH staff in his North River boat out of Eddo’s Harbor to meet the group and accommodate several of those on the tour.

On the way from Eddo’s to Walnut Grove, the stark landscape of Three Mile Slough shows the distinct pictorial differences from one end of the Delta to the other. Where trees are abundant on the east side of the river near Walnut Grove, little to no trees grow in the western edge of the Delta.

“25 years ago, they removed these trees because they thought the root systems would damage the levees,” said Sorensen. “Now, they see that leaving the trees actually improves the strength
of the levees.”

Conner Everts, Desal Response Group Executive Director and Southern California Watershed Alliance Co-Chair came along for the ride. Based in Santa Monica, Everts dispelled many of the myths that southern California residents are “out to get Northern California’s water”.

“They understand the issue,” he said while riding in Sorensen’s boat. “Rates are going to go up if these tunnels are built. People want to know what they can do to save water and to use local water supply.”

Restore the Delta’s documentary film, Over Troubled Waters has been a smash success in the southern half of the state – as screenings have sold out and many interested people have joined the cause to fight against the twin tunnel proposal that is BDCP.

“The only way to save the Delta is to keep water in it,” said Everts.

Victor Rosasco of Roberts Island has followed water policy for the last 40 years, but felt that it was time to stand up and make a change to prevent the land he loves so dearly from being destroyed by tunnel muck and years of construction to build the 40’ diameter, 35-mile long tunnels 150-feet below the Delta.

“I’ve always been a river advocate,” said Rosasco. “This is another prime example of the already rich benefiting with billions to benefit very few people. Our government watchdog agencies (DWR) are all in the deal and avoid scientific evidence. I’m here because now I can do something.”

Food and Water Watch Organizer Jessica Parra-Fitch explained that their strategy is to cultivate supporters on a grassroots level throughout the City of Los Angeles to oppose the BDCP project.

“I don’t think people get it,” said Parra-Fitch. “We’ve screened Over Troubled Waters and done a panel discussion. The key is relaying how it relates to southern California.”

She noted that the challenge is keeping up the momentum and staying focused on an issue that isn’t necessarily local, even though the entire state’s water supply depends on what happens with BDCP. Struggles that exist to keep that momentum going is feeling the immediate effects from a project like BDCP, which wouldn’t be felt until ratepayers were forced to pay through the nose for water.

“It’s sad that people have to feel it to care,” she said. “It is a challenge every day to keep people engaged and be effective.”

Both Parra-Fitch and Everts discussed that fracking has become a huge issue in the southern part of the state, and that it is imperative to link the twin tunnel project to the oil companies need for water to expand fracking projects. While people are opposed to fracking, others are not – and think that it is a good idea. The need for an extremely large amount of water to expand fracking projects is just as important as big agribusiness needing water from BDCP to plant crops in desert like conditions.

Everts went on to explain that Metropolitan Water District (water agency governing the LA region) is a board made up of 37 people, all appointed. Their meetings are held on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. to avoid any public participation, and that the average employee’s salary is over $200,000. Thus, MWD will have enough resources to pay for their own Environmental Impact Review (EIR) of BDCP. He explained that this is ratepayer money being used to fund these projects.

San Diego Water Authority has sued MWD twice for overcharging ratepayers, profiting $78 million at the end of 2012, according to UT San Diego. The lawsuit has yet to go to trial, but this abuse of power is being felt throughout the region. While San Diego might be getting screwed out of their water from MWD, Everts noted that SDWA uses 300 gallons of water a day per capita.

“That’s not water use, that’s water abuse,” he said.

Tom Stokely, Water Analyst with California Water Impact Network was having the conversation with Dr. Jerry Meral when the infamous “Delta cannot be saved” quote was heard. Stokely explained that the quote was indeed not out of context, and that BDCP does not want to study alternative plans at all.

“Every promise that has been made has been broken,” said Stokely as the boat tour ended and the water advocates boarded a bus to attend a dinner at the Roberts Island Farm Bureau. “What’s going to happen to the new facilities (conveyance facilities) in an atmospheric river storm?”

Stokely stated that Meral explained that the facilities would survive the atmospheric river, but that the Delta would not. While an atmospheric river seems to be in California’s future sometime in the next 50 years – it is hard to say what the effects will actually be to the levee system if not improved.

Corey Chan, a high school biology teacher in Antioch attended the tour to better understand the issues and be able to inform her students of what is going on.

“Many students don’t even know what the Delta is,” she said.

To learn more, visit www.restorethedelta.org.


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