The signs are up all around Stanislaus County. “Worth your Fight,” they say, and the “o” in “worth” is in the shape of a water drop. Local media and political leaders are shouting, “water grab,” and have plenty of support in their opposition to the state’s proposal to increase flows along Valley rivers.
Water, of course, is worth everyone’s fight, and that’s just where the state’s problems begin. King Solomon had a much easier task; all he had to do was discover the truth. With water, the truth is everyone needs it and everyone can justify the demand for it.
It doesn’t help their cause that Valley leaders and water users have for decades promoted unsustainable growth, both in agriculture and urban water use. It doesn’t help that for years the San Joaquin River featured a sixty mile stretch where it ran dry every year. And it doesn’t help that today the Tuolumne River is a pathetic trickle, clogged with non-native water hyacinths and human trash.
And speaking of “water grabs,” why haven’t our media and leaders been as vocal about the actual water grabs that began years ago and continue to this day? These are the grabs that involve taking water from rivers and reservoirs that belong to the people.
Modesto Reservoir supplies City of Modesto drinking water and provides hunting and recreational opportunities to a wide range of visitors, including hunters, birders, boaters, campers, and hikers. The reservoir is surrounded on three sides by almond orchards.
Water for the orchards is provided by deep wells with powerful pumps. Any geologist or hydrologist would testify that the pumps over time take millions of gallons of water from the reservoir, none of it accounted for.
There are also orchards planted along our rivers. Again, water pumped to serve these orchards is taken from the rivers. In the case of the City of Modesto, millions of gallons are taken from the Tuolumne River long before the water reaches city residents. Where’s the outcry?
It seems that when the state’s involved in water allotments, it’s a “water grab,” but when public water is appropriated by private enterprise, it isn’t even newsworthy.
Government is always an easy target, and even more so when controversy is presented in simplistic terms. “People versus Fish,” and “It’s About the Tunnels” make for catchy slogans, but water problems have never been so easy to describe.
Locally, no one wants to talk about the importance of increased flows to the health of the San Joaquin Delta, just as no one wants to discuss the importance of fresh water to the entire San Francisco Bay ecosystem, or the incursion of saltwater into Valley groundwater.
And no one has yet addressed the insanity of Valley cities the size of Fresno almost wholly dependent on groundwater. Instead, Valley leaders and media prefer to encourage more orchards, more roads, and more Valley residents while railing at the state for attempting to achieve fair and sustainable uses of a resource that belongs to everyone.