“Southern Californians are monsters. They have never done anything for anyone else. That SoCal needs another source of water is not the question. How bad they are willing to trash its source is the real question, and they really don’t care how bad the source is trashed. Water is the only difference between the Sacramento Valley and the Owens Valley.” – E-MAIL FROM A NORTHERN CALIFORNIA NEWSPAPER READER Both Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein recognize that emotions still run high across Northern California against any solution to the many problems afflicting the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers east of San Francisco Bay. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.They simply may not understand how deep and strongly felt those emotions remain, even 25 years after a near-unanimous vote against the proposed Peripheral Canal project in all areas north of Stockton. They haven’t yet seen the e-mail above and many others like it. That’s why Schwarzenegger and Feinstein, this state’s two leading vote-getting politicians, could stand blithely before a battery of TV cameras in late summer as Schwarzenegger intoned that, “I think if everyone works together here, including the farmers, the agriculture people, everyone works together, we can do it.” Both politicians agree the state faces a water crisis. Levees in the delta area, where many homes sit in the shadow of river water flowing at heights above their rooflines, are startlingly vulnerable even to a moderate earthquake. Water quality has steadily declined in the delta while salinity creeps in from the bay. And the 25 million people who live south and east of the delta will do nothing but multiply and need more water, while needs of Central Valley farms can only increase if global warming worsens. So more dams and reservoirs are needed. But they will stand empty unless the state or the federal government builds some kind of concrete-lined ditch to carry that water around the delta in times of flood and high runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Just such a ditch was called the Peripheral Canal in a 1981 law authorizing its construction. But the 98 percent 1982 northern vote to kill it has made this concept political anathema ever since. The almost unanimous vote came despite assurances in the authorizing law that water from the canal would be pumped into the delta to relieve salinity and held back when rivers threatened to overflow their levees. The 1981 law also precluded any future state dams on wild rivers like the Eel and the Smith. Now Feinstein and Schwarzenegger say they will somehow overcome the raw emotions of Northern Californians like the many newspaper readers who responded vituperatively to a recent column on the revival of the canal idea. Ironically, Feinstein vividly recalls that she was the first to sign petitions leading to the 1982 vote against the canal. “The situation is very different today than it was 25 years ago,” she said. “The difference is we know much more. I had no idea then of the condition of the levees. The earthquake problems have changed in the last 25 years. The ecosystem itself has changed. We have a very volatile region.” So Feinstein has changed her mind since, as mayor of San Francisco, she signed that petition. But there is no sign many others in Northern California have changed their minds. After one newspaper reader e-mailed that Southern California is a totally selfish region, a respondent reminded her that during a five-year drought in the late 1980s and early ’90s, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California piped thousands of acre feet of water across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to Marin County, preventing that lush area from becoming a parched desert. “Doesn’t matter,” came the reply. “It’s our water, and it’s staying here.” Feinstein recognizes that this emotion exists. “People in the north feel very strongly about protecting what they consider their basic riparian right, which is the water. And so it has to be very sensitively handled. It has to be bipartisan. We have to take into consideration the concerns of the north,” she said. That’s exactly what the rejected 1981 Peripheral Canal law did, with its protections of endangered species and water quality and wild rivers. Yes, Feinstein has changed her mind, possibly because she now has more than 25 million constituents in Southern California, while in 1982 she had none. Even so, emotions against anything like the canal appear to run about as high in Northern California today as they did in 1982. So a putative delta solution involving anything like the canal seems as likely to be voted down now as it was then. Which means that California – including whole counties in the Bay Area that depend on water from the delta – had best brace for a water shortage of epic proportions if and when any sizeable earthquake strikes anywhere near the delta. Tom Elias wrote The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It, which is now available in an updated third edition. His e-mail address is [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
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