The Uncivil War Over the California Water Fix

It must be something in the water.

Propagandistic special interest groups such as Restore the Delta are on a single-minded mission to stop the twin-tunnel plan that would ensure a steady supply of water to Southern California. Notwithstanding the guise of false environmentalism, it is self-interest, opportunism and something else entirely that are at play here.

What is being portrayed as an environmental battle is really something very different, indeed.

Time to tell it like it is, and, even though the discussion finally gives us a chance to use such neglected adjectives as "riparian," it's pretty darn simple. This is about North vs. South. This is about Northern California not wanting Southern California to "steal" what they consider to be "their" water, as characterized on the group's website as "the fight against the L.A. invasion on our water" (by a commenter who in a homophobic aside describes former California Assembly Speaker Angeleno John Perez as "a fat lesbian in drag as a man.")

In Southern California, we are not brought up to hate San Francisco and Northern California. Sure, some of us Dodgers faithful aren't big fans of Halloween because of the black and orange, but we respect the rivalry and generally have a positive attitude when we think of Northern California - if we think of Northern California.

Not so, it seems with some Northerners in this state. While we Southerners tend to be laid back about nonbaseball intrastate rivalries, Northerners seem to have been bred to hate all things Southern Californian, including the Dodgers and especially the fact that some of our water comes from Northern California. This inborn resentment of Southern California is a bit befuddling to us down here.

Restore the Delta, by the way, has a disingenuous if not downright misleading name. Most of the board members are Northern California farmers and it is the farming over the past hundred-plus years that is largely responsible for such ecological problems as massive subsidence, along with the environmental unsustainability it creates. The farming has caused delta islands to sink to 30 feet or more below sea level. If the members of Restore the Delta were really looking to restore the delta, then they would try to create the ecosystem that existed before farming caused the natural landscape to lose its kilter.

Northern opposition to allowing the conveyance of water in a reliable fashion to Southern California is nothing new. In fact, Restore the Delta board members pride themselves on having successfully opposed the proposed Peripheral Canal in the '70s - all so that the "old ways" of delta farming could continue unabated while the farmland's sea level plays catch up with Death Valley. Ironically, the tunnels would actually do a better job of restoring the delta area than the current levee patch-and-fixes approach.

For all this dumping on Southern California, it is interesting to note that not one member or executive of Restore the Delta seems to have a problem when state resources flow from the South northwards. As protective as they seem to be about "their" water, they don't have any problem taking, for example, our Southern California tax dollars and spending them on delta levee maintenance. Southern Californian ratepayers would finance the tunnels, while the maintenance of private levees is paid for by the state's taxpayers. This is an absurd and unfair situation and the the state's legislators should take immediate action to stop the public financing of private levee maintenance.

Some common-sense proposals for water conservation embraced by the anti-tunnel groups should be (and in many cases already are being) adopted on a statewide basis; but this is a tactical distraction. Water conservation and other efficiencies do not mean that the need for upgraded infrastructure should be dismissed and that Southern California should not be allowed through reliable conveyance to access water to which it has a right.

Perhaps most hypocritical of all, while these groups continue spouting off about "water theft," "death tunnels" and the "vampire plan," we haven't heard a peep out of any of them about the single biggest instance of statewide water-related theft of all. Of course, that would be the damming and damning of Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy valley a hundred years ago, which deprived all Americans of an integral part of our greatest national park forever. All so that San Francisco could be assured of ... a steady supply of water.

Let's continue going about our business, keeping the faith that our Dodgers will finally bring us a long-awaited world championship and working towards the Bay Delta Conservation Plan's infrastructure upgrades. Let's ignore the bogus arguments, false eco-concern, provincial selfishness and regional resentment that are the true causes of Northern Californian opposition toward the tunnels.

What else can you do? Haters gonna hate. ...

This article originally appeared on Nov. 30 in the Los Angeles Business Journal.