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Trumping pumping

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When last I discussed bad ideas for solving California's water problems in this space ("Don't go in the tunnel," Dec. 12), we covered everything wrong with the Delta Tunnel proposal and why SLO County's supervisors should not pony up $2.5 million to be a part of it.

On Feb. 19, Donald Trump came to Bakersfield to flourish an even worse idea, via a Presidential Memorandum on Developing and Delivering More Water Supplies in California (Essentially: diverting more rivers and building a bunch of dams).

Last year, Trump's Department of the Interior executed an about-face on previous biological opinions wherein federal scientists had determined that diverting more water would harm fish and wildlife. These have been replaced by opinions more to the president's liking. The new opinions, as noted by The Hill, represent "a shift that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt had previously called for when he ... lobbied on behalf of a farming group based in California to roll back protections on the delta smelt. Bernhardt is currently under federal investigation over several ethics concerns including complaints that he continued to push the efforts of his former employer, Westlands Water District, to advance policy at the Interior Department."

"California won't allow the Trump administration to destroy and deplete our natural resources," state Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement issued in response to the new opinions. "We're prepared to challenge the Trump administration's harmful attack on our state's critical ecosystems and environment."

"We appreciate that the Newsom administration is going to challenge the Trump administration's ridiculously dishonest biological opinion," said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California. "That opinion is nothing more than an extinction plan. Bernhardt and Trump created that extinction plan by transferring honest scientists off the job. Suing the Trump administration is the right thing to do."

And while much of what Trump said at the Bakersfield signing ceremony was right in line with the trademark reality-free howling at the moon beloved by his fans ("It would be different if you had a drought. You don't have a drought. You have tremendous amounts of water," he said, the day after the Sierra snowpack clocked in at 53 percent of normal.). He also pointed to "decades of failure and delays in ensuring critical water access for the people of this state."

His proposed solution is all wet, but he wasn't wrong. From the peripheral canal to the delta tunnels, state administrations have been determined to move forward with massive projects that would divert water from the Bay Delta, devastate fish and wildlife, and deliver a very low likelihood of improving water availability and security for Californians.

When the SLO County Board of Supervisors convened on Feb. 4 to start pondering its role in the proposed Delta Conveyance Project, the Sierra Club was there to remind them that diverting two-thirds of the fresh water flowing into the Bay Delta from the Sacramento River would mean the likely collapse of one of California's major ecosystems.

And for those supervisors who don't care much about ecosystems but do care about money, we noted that while the exact cost of the delta tunnel is unknown, proponents have said it would cost at least $11 billion, and most independent analysts anticipate it would cost much more when overruns and interest are factored in. We said that the $2.5 million that would be charged to the local district and contractors as their share of project design and review costs if the county signs off on the deal would be much better spent on local projects that capture runoff and use it to recharge groundwater basins, encouraging water-efficient technologies such as weather-based irrigation controllers and drip irrigation, and recycling municipal wastewater—all of which could save more than 2.3 million acre-feet of water annually statewide, according to the Department of Water Resources.

Conservative voices from north of the grade joined us to point out the State Water Project's sketchy history of delivery and to wonder loudly why residents in parts of the county not served by the project are required to pay for water they aren't going to get.

The county administrator then focused like a laser beam on the $2.5 million, in a brief exchange with Public Works staff who had been vague on that point.

After all testimony was heard, board chair John Peschong observed, "When you get a unique group of people who pretty much are united from different sides, I think we've got some work to do in the community to understand it ... . I want to take a look and kind of really kick the tires on this one because of the opposition that I've heard today."

Which means our supervisors and you, dear reader, still have time to download The Smart Alternative to Tunnel(s): A Sensible Water Management Portfolio at sierraclub.org/california/water. Δ

Andrew Christie is the director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments through clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a letter to the editor and email it to letters@newtimesslo.com.


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