Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bay Area water hypocrisy exposed

By Bill McEwen / The Fresno Bee

Instead of invoking more tired "blame SF 'wackos' for our problems" rhetoric how about writing a column about Valley hypocrisy on water? Daily , I see countless instances of people watering in the heat of the afternoon, letting water run into gutters, and planting water intensive landscapes. These people either don't see the connection between their own actions and the larger picture or do not care. Maybe they need a wake-up call, but seeing as how local media/"leaders" are better at reflecting public opinion than trying to shape it I doubt that will happen anytime soon.

One of these days, a water-starved farmer will walk into federal court and demand that O'Shaughnessy Dam come down, finally restoring glacial Hetch Hetchy Valley to its natural grandeur and releasing a natural flow into the Tuolumne River.

Such a lawsuit wouldn't get the farmer more water. But it would expose the hypocrisy of Bay Area environmentalists who depict San Joaquin Valley residents as ignorant hillbillies making a mess of the desert and the Delta with their irrigated farms.

Hetch Hetchy -- the twin to Yosemite Valley -- should have been restored decades ago, say many environmental groups, including the Sierra Club.

But the only way the dam falls is if a federal judge orders it. And no environmental group will sue. Why?

They say it's better handled with cooperation and education. My explanation is simpler: it's because the dam holds some of the best drinking water on earth -- granite-filtered water reserved mostly for the allegedly environmentally conscious folks of San Francisco and other Bay Area cities.

Amazing, isn't it?

Environmentalists sue to restore the Owens River and Mono Lake. Environmentalists sue to restore the San Joaquin River and bring back its salmon run.

But they won't unleash their lawyers on Hetch Hetchy, one of the world's great wonders, or demand that San Francisco surrender its drinking water so that the Tuolumne River can teem with salmon again.

Can I prove that environmental groups are picking other battles to avoid a backlash among their Bay Area supporters? No. But it sure looks that way.

Here in the Valley, east-side farmers are giving up, on average, 170,000 acre-feet of water each year for the reintroduction of salmon into the San Joaquin.

Shouldn't Bay Area residents forfeit a similar amount -- about half of Hetch Hetchy's storage capacity -- to recharge the Tuolumne, the San Joaquin and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta with cold Yosemite water?

Shouldn't we enjoy Hetch Hetchy Valley, as it was before powerful San Francisco interests stole Tuolumne water rights -- and broke John Muir's heart -- in the early 1900s?

San Franciscans beg to differ. They claim that the dam has created a beautiful lake and Hetch Hetchy Valley was overrated -- its spectacular vistas mere figments of Muir's imagination. Two of the loudest opponents against restoring Hetch Hetchy are Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Three years of drought and the dramatic degradation of the Delta are hog-tying west-side farmers. They are trying to survive with a fraction of their usual water deliveries.

What are San Franciscans giving up? Not their precious Hetch Hetchy tap water.

Let's give the San Francisco greenies a dose of aggressive environmentalism. Let's sue to restore Hetch Hetchy.

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