Leave it to a crisis to bring out the worst in those who helped bring it about. Led by Devin Nunes, three San Joaquin Valley Republicans are trying to overturn legislation that restored flows to the San Joaquin River after over two decades of litigation.
Never mind that a wide consensus of scientific opinion agrees that restored flows are necessary for the survival of San Joaquin Valley salmon runs. Never mind also that restored flows are critical to the survival of the San Joaquin Delta.
Nunes and fellow Republicans David Valadao and Kevin McCarthy want to keep pumping water south to Tulare County farmland, where the soil has been ruined and the groundwater is increasingly contaminated. A recent study showed that in Tulare County, 70% of the private wells are contaminated with concentrations of nitrates beyond a safe level. Even some public school drinking fountains are unsafe, and entire rural communities often rely on expensive bottled water for all their needs.
But facts have never mattered much in California’s water wars. If they had, we’d have never sent precious water away from the best soil in the world to saline hardpan. We’d never have shouldered the public with the burden of pumping water over the Grapevine to southern California, where the thirsty population and arid climate have drained the Colorado River dry and now threaten the survival of rivers in the San Joaquin Valley.
Nunes and company would like to frame the water wars as fish against people, but the fact is that shipping water south hurts fishermen, northern California farmers, and the San Joaquin Delta ecosystem.
If Nunes and his friends were really worried about people, they’d be trying to help the poor farmworkers in Tulare County who have to spend a good part of their time and money acquiring bottled water because they can’t drink the stuff that comes out of their faucets.
But people aren’t the issue here, and never have been. The issue is to keep the water flowing until the corporate farmland is so depleted not even water will revive it. That’s about the time Nunes and friends will decide the water would be much better used for fracking.
Nunes has John Boehner on board for the project, but that may not be much help. Boehner has distinguished himself as the leader of one of the most inept Congresses in U.S. history. If he’s remembered at all, it will be for fruitless government shutdowns.
The drought legislation Nunes has introduced would keep Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta pumps going until they run dry and damn the consequences. But then, that’s been the guiding principle of water grabbers since time began.
The one thing that has changed in a major way is that public awareness of water issues is far more sophisticated than it was even three years ago. Once the word is out about another water grab, it’s a virtual certainty residents in northern California will reject in no uncertain terms any attempts to take what little water remains.
That would be the best possible outcome of Nunes’ plan, because it’s about time Devin Nunes and friends come up with a dry well.