Jeff Denham has a lot of explaining to do. Once again on his biennial campaign tour, Denham’s latest reelection gambit features Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke.
Secretary Zinke is supposedly helping Congressman Denham work against state requirements for increased flows along our rivers, the so-called, “water grab.” Denham obviously wants to show he has tremendous clout in Washington D.C., but some of his work with fellow Republicans back east isn’t good for his district, no matter how he spins it.
For example, Jeff Denham is supporting Devin Nunes and David Valadeo in their attempts to approve the Twin Tunnels project in the San Joaquin Delta. Already, over five million acre feet of northern California water leave the delta for points south, and that often includes water from our own San Joaquin and Stanislaus Rivers.
The Twin Tunnels project would make it easier to send even more water south, this time through two forty-foot diameter tubes. Republicans Ken Calvert and David Valadeo have added riders to H.R. 6147 which would make it impossible to sue to stop the tunnels as well as exempt California water policy from judicial review. Denham himself added a rider to stop current proposals to update the state’s water plan.
Needless to say, exempting the tunnels from litigation is not only a violation of due process, it also puts government above and beyond public review. Why would Jeff Denham favor such a thing?
Why? Because Jeff Denham has three conflicting challenges: (1) He has to convince voters in the Modesto Irrigation and Turlock Irrigation Districts (MID and TID) he can stop the state from increasing flows along the Tuolumne River (2) He has to overlook Oakdale Irrigation District (OID) water sales because, (3) He has to work with fellow Republicans Nunes and Valadeo to keep water going south and, in the best of cases (for them), increase the amount of water they get from northern California.
It’s a difficult act along a very tight wire, but Jeff Denham is a master of putting perception before reality. And he knows that he couldn’t have better misdirection than the furor caused by the state’s proposal to increase flows along our rivers.
Even though the proposals for increased flows have been on the table for years now, and the opportunity to adjust and negotiate was always present, Jeff Denham did nothing. Now, as is also the case with immigration, Denham needs to make his position on water look right just long enough to get reelected.
Denham is hoping the increased flow proposals will obscure the fact that that OID has been selling water south to Westlands Water District for well over a decade. He’s also hoping no one will notice OID water sales came to an abrupt halt when they were challenged in court. They came to a halt because they’re environmentally unsound. OID then began a process of abandoning its own water rights so it could continue to ship water south—not exactly the message you want to send if your region is complaining about water shortages.
But most of all, Jeff Denham is hoping no one will notice he’s never once demonstrated a desire to keep CA-10 water in CA-10 rather than send it south. That’s because when Donald Trump promised to deliver water to “Central Valley farmers,” Jeff Denham, like Devin Nunes and David Valadeo, knew Trump was really talking about BIG AG in the southern San Joaquin Valley. They knew because they’ve been helping send water south all along.
The southern San Joaquin Valley is where Stewart Resnick and Boswell Farms have well over 300,000 acres between them. It’s also where corporate giants like Boswell and Resnick have already diverted enough water out of the San Joaquin River that it ran dry for a sixty-mile stretch until a judge ordered restored flows.
Boswell also managed to destroy Tulare Lake, a wonder of nature that once extended 60 miles from end to end and was 36 miles wide. Boswell took all that water and it still wasn’t enough.
The southern San Joaquin Valley is also where farmers, especially BIG AG, have pumped so much groundwater that the land has sunk—as much as thirty feet in some places, and it’s still sinking. Once the lake was gone and rivers dried up and the land had sunk beyond use, James Boswell, Stewart Resnick and friends looked north.
They found that contributions to politicians like David Valadeo, Devin Nunes, and Jeff Denham could bring water south, but Denham had to be careful not to let his constituents in on the scheme.
Now, Jeff Denham has to continue his delicate act of splitting his district into contending forces; instead of working with the major water districts to share their water and keep it here at home, Denham is working to maintain the status quo. But he’s had plenty of experience at such things; after all, every two years he promises a new immigration policy and every two years he fails to produce one.
Now, he and his Republican buddies are promising measures they know will meet almost certain defeat in the United States Senate. Oh, and by the way, Jeff Denham, Devin Nunes, and Ryan Zinke also want to do away with the Endangered Species Act—you know, the act that saved the Bald Eagle, California Condor, and, here in CA-10, the Aleutian Canada Goose, from extinction—that act.
But what’s important to Jeff Denham isn’t necessarily that anything happen. As has been the case in previous election years, the important thing is optics—Jeff has to look as though he’s working really hard for his district. The simple fact is he’s perfectly happy with the status quo, and always has been.
California Secretary of Resources John Laird sent a powerful letter to House and Senate Committees on Resources condemning the legislation by Denham and his Republican cronies down south. Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris have promised to oppose it in the Senate. But perhaps the strongest statement about the tunnels came from California Congressman John Garamendi, who wrote,
“The twin tunnels are an environmental and financial boondoggle that would devastate the ecology of the Delta to funnel more water south. As of today, over 90 parties, including environmental groups and northern California water users have taken legal action against the tunnels…The language in H.R. 6147 would not only insulate the tunnels from needed legal review but would also override water rights across the state.”
Jeff Denham doesn’t care. As long as he can convince his constituents he’s working in their interests and still keep water moving south, he’s the very model of today’s professional politician—a hypocritical servant of big money who puts donor approval before the interests of his own constituents.
About The Author
Eric Caine formerly taught in the Humanities Department at Merced College. He was an original Community Columnist at the Modesto Bee, and wrote for The Bee for over twelve years.