It’s axiomatic that truth is the first casualty of war, and that’s just as true of water wars as of wars between nations.Throughout the Modesto Irrigation District (MID) water sale controversy, background buzz has maintained that unless the water is sold, “They’ll give it to the fish,” or, less often, “They’ll give it to Los Angeles.”
“They,” of course is “the government,” and it doesn’t much matter whether federal or state. The point is to attach urgency to the sale lest “we” lose “our” water.
While the buzz is partially true, it ignores a greater truth—we’ve already lost the water. The Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta is near collapse, salmon fisheries, despite an anomalous good harvest this year, are almost a relic of the past, and local politicians are fighting hard against the restoration of the San Joaquin River. If “we” consider ourselves Northern Californians dependent on a vibrant regional economy derived from our greatest resource, the water left long ago.
The salmon industry is a classic case of near death from ignorance and disinformation. Recent shutdowns of salmon fisheries cost California about $1.4 billion. One study concluded that full recovery of the salmon harvest would produce $5.7 billion and 94,000 jobs—this in a state on life-support because of unemployment and lack of revenue.
Recovery of the salmon industry, experts agree, is almost entirely a matter of increased flow down our rivers. And that “wasted” water not only helps promote the salmon harvest, it’s necessary to sustain Delta farmers, a virtually forgotten constituency that also depends on inflows of fresh river water for economic survival.
The pernicious falsehood that water not diverted before it reaches the Delta is wasted surfaced again this month in a Modesto Bee OP/ED column. A Patterson farmer cited Representative Devin Nunes’ claim that, “76 percent of the water flowing into the delta is flushed out to the ocean.” The “flushing” notion suggests waste and sewage, and willfully ignores the manifold benefits river water provides the Delta and California residents in general.
Rep. Nunes and others who promote ignorance and disinformation about water almost always serve a status quo which favors big cities and corporate agriculture over family farmers and fisherman. They would rather the public not know that water pumped to the western San Joaquin Valley and farther south at public expense goes to acreage far less suited for agriculture than the lush soil here in Stanislaus County and nearby. The pumped water goes to land where depletion of the aquifer has resulted in serious problems due to subsidence and where less fertile soil needs heavier applications of fertilizer and pesticides to remain productive.
Devin Nunes and politicians like Jeff Denham would rather Valley citizens not consider the environmental and economic benefits of living rivers and a healthy Delta. And while it’s true they represent the interests of agriculture, they would much prefer to blur and obscure the differences between Big Ag as represented by the likes of James Boswell and Stuart Resnick, and the far more beneficial production of family farmers like those who farm the Delta.
Water that flows to the Delta promotes a healthy environment and provides economic benefits that too few Northern Californians have learned to appreciate. A large part of the problem is due to the willingness of mainstream media to promote myths and disinformation about the role of living rivers.