(Craig Miller/KQED)

California’s already turbulent water wars were stirred up this week when Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar unveiled a $24 billion tunnel plan to bring water from Northern to Southern California. They say the proposal will help protect the fragile ecosystem of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta while ensuring reliable water deliveries. But a coalition of environmentalists, fishing groups and local governments vow to fight the plan.

Guests:
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta
Paul Rogers, environment reporter for the San Jose Mercury News and managing editor of Quest, KQED's science and environment series
Jason Peltier, chief deputy general manager of the Westlands Water District, and a member of the California Farm Water Coalition which serves approximately 600 family-owned farms
Karla Nemeth, project director of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, California Natural Resources Agency

  • Charleston Chu

    What is Jerry Brown doing to prevent a catastrophic failure of the Central Valley’s levy system?  

    • Michaelfrost94040

      We cannot restore a wetland ecosystem AFTER diverting MORE water.

      What about the recurring cost of operating this system?

      How much electricity will be used to run the pumps?

      How about reconciling the fact that CA has given out 8.5x more water rights than we have ACTUAL WATER?

      • Michaelfrost94040

        How about regulating groundwater? How about halting the water brokerage scam being run by farms in the desert.

  • Charleston Chu

    Here is San Jose, we just had our water rates increased. The rational of the San Jose Water Company was: the rate increase is necessary, because customers are using LESS water, and the SJWC isn’t making enough profit.

    I say take this lesson, and learn from it: let the Angelinos conserve THEIR water, before we agree to sell them any more…that way, we can maximize the profit, from future exploitation of Northern California’s water resources.

  • Ted Olsson

    With the potential for ecological harm—similar to changing the New Orleans Delta before Katrina—why wouldn’t we solve the water problem by desalinating the ocean in southern California, particularly along the length of channels from ocean to agricultural reservoirs?  We must maintain our agriculture, yet urban populations, already a majority of the location of people in the state, are going to be rapidly growing in the coming years.  Finally, this inexhaustible ocean supply is necessary in drought-prone California.

    • Ktmak

      Yes — desalinization! WHY are we using 1900’s technology (pumps and shipping water) to solve population and agriculture water needs??? Let’s invest the $billions into 21st century methods — solar energy for desalinating closer to the water needs. We are on the coast NEAR ocean water – not like the rest of our drought-stricken country. My daughter lived and worked for two years on Minami Diato, an sland in Okinawa growing sugar cane that has used desalinized water for their population and agriculture needs. Has the state researched water supply methods around the world before proposing this???

      • Deirdre Des Jardins

        Currently it takes about as much electricity to ship water 400 miles south from the Delta and over the Tehachapis as it does to desalinate water.    Improvements in desalination technology are likely to reduce both cost and electricity use.

  • Guest

    When you fly over California, you realize we live on a desert and yet try to make it look green using water.  The state is overcrowded compared to scant natural resources available here.  Is there a real sustainable solution to our water problem short of asking people to leave the state?

    • Deirdre Des Jardins

      Yes.   There are almost 600,000 acres of lawns in California, and they take almost 5 acre feet of water per acre.   That’s 3 million acre feet of water just for landscaping.    If we all had landscaping adapted to our mediterranean climate, it would go a long way towards solving our water problem.

  • Bill

    My family has roots in the Central Valley dating back to the Gold Rush. I believe there can be a balance between preserving the ecology of the Delta and maintaining agriculture, but given the level of polarization and misinformation, coming especially from the large growers and their allies in Congress, I do not see how a productive conversation is possible.

  • Doug

    The level of denial and special interest advocacy is remarkable from many of the long-time lobbyists in this debate – two of which are on your program.  The proposed peripheral tunnel is profoundly more reliable for water supply than the existing system.  Unfortunately, the proposed ecosystem restoration measures are significantly uncertain – to the extent that an imbalanced solution has been proposed.  The elephant in the room is the quantity and timing of water exports.  I hope we can bring folks into the decision that have the courage to face the elephant.

  • Jim

    In my opinion, water contracts need to be renegotiated to reflect the true cost of water and the true volume of available water. Water transfers need to be renegotiated or banned. Crops that do not use so much water need to be grown. I’d like to know how Southern California interests would be willing to change their contracts to reflect a true concern for sustainable use of water. My opinion stems from the fact that water contracts seem to be viewed as iron-clad once made, rather than negotiable based on environmental and meteorological factors that determine availability.

    • Jim

       I meant “factors that determine water availability.”

  • Jhernandez

    You say that there are contracts and rules in place. Last I heard the republican congress wasn’t too keen on the clean water act and changing the contract is one court case or assembly measure from being changed. How can I as a Contra Costa county resident trust big agriculture and southern California to not destroy my ecosystem and home?

  • One approach to deal with the mistrust regarding the volume of water to be pumped through the “peripheral tunnels” is to reduce the size of the tunnels…from 33 feet to 16 feet each. This way there would be a maximum qty of water that can be sent to the aqueducts that would be less than the amount that would have a very serious impact on the estuary and fisheries.

  • Realist

    Water is not the problem.  The problem is population growth

    • Ellis

      Sorry Realist,

      But a very well documented book
      concluded that the supportable population with existing surface water
      supplies estimates that California can support a population of
      296,600,000. See “How to Create A Water Crisis” written by Frank
      Welsh in 1985.
       

  • Coworkerbob

    Why isn’t water treatment and full cycle reclamation (like in orange county) part of this project to reduce water waste for the cities dependent on the delta? 

    • Deirdre Des Jardins

      Individual water districts in Southern California are implementing water recycling and conservation measures, including lawn removal rebates.   Metropolitan Water District, which is the wholesaler of Delta water to most of Southern California, has a business model which relies on continuing high demand for Delta water, and is pushing the Peripheral Tunnel.

  • samrivers

    It should be remembered that all of California’s agricultural industry contributes about 2% to the State economy ($35 billion out of a $1.9 trillion economy) and that the industry uses 80% of the State’s developed water.  It is logical that that part of the Ag community that is closest to the water source (i.e. the Delta farmers) should have first call on the water.  Much of the land further south, like in the Westlands, is contaminated by selenium and other toxics from years of over-irrigating.  Those lands should be retired with full compensation to the land owners at fair market value.

    • Deirdre Des Jardins

      Because the State Water Project goes mostly to urban uses, the percentage of Delta exports that go to urban uses has been higher than the state average since the 1970s, and has grown with population growth.  In the past decade, about 60% of Delta exports went to agricultural uses, and 40% to urban.  If you include diversions of the Sacramento River and San Joaquin River to agricultural uses, then you would likely get to 80% ag for the entire Central Valley watershed.

      The west side of the San Joaquin Valley uses both water from the Central Valley Project  (Westlands and further north) and the State Water Project (some of Tulare Lake and the west side of Kern County.)   Much of this land is impaired by salt and has poor groundwater.    The Rainbow Report estimated that 500,000 acres of agricultural land on the West side would be retired by 2040.   Currently about 120,000 acres in Westlands is retired from irrigated production, and 100,000 acres in the Tulare Basin.

      Some of the Westlands land is growing dry-farmed wheat & barley, and some is used for grazing.   The land in the Tulare Basin is heavily contaminated with boron, and so cannot grow most crops.   It is being used for grazing, and some is being put to alternative uses, including spreading sewage from Southern California.

  • Guest123

    Purple pipes are the answer for Ag. Upgrade
    the sewage treatment plants in the valley and the SF Bay area to treat the
    water that currently goes back into the rivers and SF bay and sell it to AG.
    They can take a large amount of that. It would be a predictable source for
    them, create good jobs with the updating of the sewage treatment facilities,
    create a source of income for these municipalities, take pressure off the
    Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.  It
    would be good for Ag, good for the fish and good for the economy.  It’s a win win for all.  Spending 27 billion or whatever the final
    cost is for this tunnel plan is plain stupid given the current budget issues in
    the state.  Spend that money on upgrading
    the sewage treatment facilities that can guarantee a consistent source of water
    for Ag.  This would be year in and year
    out guaranteed water.  Using the same
    water twice is a smatter plan than stripping the Sacramento river of its
    water.   Also, the state has over allocated CA water
    resources for years.  There is no reason
    to believe if they build this new system that they will not pump more
    water.  That’s been the case for the last
    decade.  Only court orders have kept
    diversions capped.  It’s like building a
    freeway.  If you built it then it will be
    used to its fullest capacity no matter what the exporters are saying. 

     

  • Gene Beley

    This
    was an excellent panel and very needed in-depth program!  Probably the
    best yet presented. I was only disappointed that no one discussed five
    subjects:  (1) building more water desalinization plants in Southern
    California, (2) how billionaire farmers like Stewart and Linda Resnick from
    Paramount Farms in Kern County are reselling their water as a major
    “crop”. ( Last year Resnicks sold more than $73 million in one water
    transaction, while their partner, John Vidovich, a Los Altos real estate
    developer, also sold more than $70 million);  (3) a discussion about the
    1994 “Monterey Agreement” where the state of California transferred
    ownership in a $73 million taxpayer funded Kern Water Bank to the Resnicks that
    has allowed them to now resell this water to make them even wealthier; (4)
    eminent domain on Delta family farms to seize lands they’ve farmed since the
    late 1800s and early 1900s; and, finally, (5) the part that real estate
    developers in Kern and neighboring counties are quietly playing behind the scenes
    on this big water grab stage.  

     

    For
    those who don’t know the very private, give-no-press-interview Resnicks, they
    own Roll International, one of the largest private companies in the world that
    operates Paramount Farms, the Franklin Mint, Teleflora, and many other
    companies. When they acquired the water bank, their reported master plan is to resell
    water to Los Angeles.  You can reference more on Public Citizen at: http://www.c-win.org/webfm_send/52
     

     

    I am very pessimistic that the North will win this time
    because of the power of the Federal government plus the state and the
    billionaires money that feeds the politicians like Sen. Feinstein. Money will
    probably rule in our age of twisted democracy where the people may not even get
    a vote.  When the Southern California rate payers get their water bills,
    maybe we’ll see our own Arab Spring California civil war revolution. Water
    contractors are already passing on the $150 million costs of meetings the past
    two years to current water bills. They can thank Gov. Brown’s tunnel vision!

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor