Tapped Out: Whose Reality?

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Photo by ValleyPBS via valleypbs.org

By Michael D. Evans

Valley PBS aired a documentary miniseries titled Tapped Out: The History and Battle over Water in California’s San Joaquin Valley during May. The four-part series examined the history of water in California.

“The series was in large part a four-hour commercial for the construction of the proposed Temperance Flat dam,” says Gerald Vinnard, an Executive Committee member of the Sierra Club Tehipite Chapter, “but offered very little in the way of hard facts or information about the project.”

The first episode looked at California before settlement and the role of early irrigation systems leading up to the Central Valley Project, which was the first major water plan for the state.

“The original users of the valley’s waters, California’s native plants and animals, had their rights stolen away by water contract law with as little regard for them as the Indian treaties had for the First Nations of this continent,” notes Bob Turner, also a member of the Sierra Club Tehipite Chapter Executive Committee.

The second episode examined the 1970s-era State Water Project and the birth of the environmental revolution, which changed agriculture radically in the San Joaquin Valley. The program asked, “Without building new dams and getting precious groundwater levels to back to normal, are we prepared for the next long periods of drought?”

“Speakers characterized both the San Joaquin River salmon restoration program and efforts to restore the health of the San Joaquin/Sacramento Delta as failures,” said Vinnard, “but no one with appropriate scientific credentials was interviewed about either of those subjects.”

In the third episode, the fight over control of water in California intensifies and in the words of the film’s producers, “the environmentalist movement, powerful in Sacramento, continues to force more farms out of business with a flood of regulations impacting water delivery.”

“The environment is not a third straw,” notes Turner, “but rather is the original pool from which the city straw and the agriculture straw have been sucking away for over a century.”

“The SF Bay Delta would be a saltwater wasteland were it not for the flows of northern California rivers that keep it alive,” says environmental activist Gary Lasky. “The water barons in the San Joaquin Valley are doing everything in their power to further starve the fish and the Delta for essential freshwater.”

The final episode was a panel discussion on sustainable solutions and other issues affecting water in the San Joaquin Valley. Much of the discussion focused on the Temperance Flat dam project.

“The panel discussion,” stated Vinnard, “failed to acknowledge that quite a few well-informed and well-known San Joaquin Valley residents support protection of the Delta and/or oppose construction of the Temperance Flat dam.”

“Nowhere in the program was there any substantive discussion of how the dam will be financed and where its cost-prohibitive water resources will be sold,” said Turner. “It is a shame that our Valley farmers are not being told the truth about the Temperance Flat project.”

Moreover, “nothing was said about the effects the Temperance Flat dam would have on Millerton Lake fishing and boating opportunities, or about the hiking trails and bridge in the San Joaquin River Gorge that will be inundated if the dam is built,” added Vinnard.

As an alternative to what the panel discussed, Turner suggests that “a much cheaper solution for capturing extra water in wet years, and one that will be better for local water users, is to expand existing canals, and build several new ones, allowing flood waters to be sent directly into valley pools and fields so that they can recharge declining subsurface aquifers and help our critical groundwater basins achieve necessary sustainability. It is an alternative that doesn’t mess with popular and accessible recreation on Millerton Lake, and that won’t drown the scenic and still wild San Joaquin River Gorge, with it world-class, mile-long Millerton Cave, uniquely carved through granite by an underground river.”

“Without sufficient freshwater flows into the Delta to push out seawater,” notes Lasky, “the Delta will turn into a marine environment, losing all of its natural diversity of the estuary.”

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Michael D. Evans is a political activist, editor and writer. Contact him at evansm@usa.net.

Take Action

Re: the Temperance Flat Dam

Facebook: Friends of the San Joaquin River Gorge https://www.facebook.com/keepthegorge/

Sierra Club Tehipite Chapter (Fresno) https://www.sierraclub.org/tehipite

Gary Lasky, Legal Chair (559) 799-3945                                                                                                         data.nations@gmail.com