In slightly fewer than six-hundred words that may have set a record for errors per word, last Thursday’s Community Column in the Modesto Bee established a new low in our region’s ongoing debate about water. Written by Turlock’s Mike Romeo, the column contains numerous factual errors and at least one major conceptual error.
The conceptual error stems from Romeo’s assumption that those who pay for a dam own the water in the dam. Water is a public resource. Its distribution depends on a political process involving public input.
But even if Romeo’s assumption about dams and ownership of water were true, his numbers are wildly wrong. Romeo claims the Turlock Irrigation District (TID) paid 68 percent of the cost of Don Pedro Dam. According to the Modesto Irrigation District’s, “The Greening of Paradise Valley,” the total cost of Don Pedro Dam was $115, 696,000. Of that total, the TID paid $32,071,000. That’s 27 percent, not 68 percent. The largest share of the cost of Don Pedro Dam was paid by the city of San Francisco, at $47,380,000. By Romeo’s logic, the majority share of the water should belong to San Francisco.
Romeo’s factual errors actually begin with his first sentence, where he says the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) proposes, “to increase flows from Lake Don Pedro into the Tuolumne River” by 188 percent. In fact, the SWRCB proposes to restore flows along the Tuolumne to 35 percent of the historical average. That’s a 15 percent increase over the current 20 percent. It’s anybody’s guess where Romeo got the “188 percent” figure.
Like other opponents of increased river flows, Romeo tries to frame his argument in terms of farmers versus fish. But increased river flows are important not only to fish but also to San Joaquin Delta farmers, who are facing ever-increasing problems due to rising salinity in the Delta. In fact, the entire Delta ecosystem is imperiled in large part because of water diversions from our biggest rivers. A major reason for increased flows is to reduce salinity in the Delta. Put simply, the SWRCB is asking local farmers and urban users to conserve 15% of current use for the well-being of fish and Delta farmers, not to mention the entire Delta ecosystem.
Romeo makes the proposal to increase flows seem like the product of random guesswork, writing that there is no evidence that increased flows will help salmon. But according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, conclusions about the need for increased flows were the result of research by, “Scientists and fishery managers with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the State Water Resources Control Board, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bay Institute, as well as independent scientific peer reviews and other conservation and fishing groups.” In other words, scientific testimony overwhelmingly supports increased flows.
In addition to numerous factual errors, Romeo’s column contains some assertions that are downright bizarre. At one point he writes, “They [SWRCB] also cannot assure that released water will make it to the salmon at the Golden Gate.” Huh? Where has anyone suggested increased flows are intended for “salmon at the Golden Gate”?
Maybe partisan zeal got the best of Mike Romeo, and he didn’t bother to check his facts. But that doesn’t excuse the Modesto Bee. In choosing to publish Romeo’s errors and misstatements shortly before next week’s hearings on restoring the Delta, Bee editors have shown a callous disregard for their obligation to deliver accurate information to Valley citizens. Bee readers deserve better service from the only major newspaper in the region.