Farm Press Blog

Drain Hetch Hetchy and send the water to Westlands

  • How far would Hetch Hetchy go towards filling the irrigation lines of a water district like Westlands?


To show just how out of touch the happy people in the city by the Bay are, they believe it’s “too soon to use the ‘D’ word .

Now that California Governor Edmund Brown Jr. declared a drought emergency in an official proclamation does not mean the fight is over or the situation is soon going to get any easier in the near term. As I write this Fresno, Calif. has not seen any rain – zip, zero, nada – since Dec. 7 when 0.15 of an inch fell. Chances are very good that we could see a rainless January here in Central California.

An online article published by SF Gate, which is not labeled “opinion,” writes this: “Yes, 2013 was the driest year in California on record. Yes, scant rain has fallen this winter, but historically, California receives most of its rain and runoff between January and April. We have weeks to go before the real worry should set in.”

Thank you for recognizing what was obviously not on the Governor’s mind when he made his drought declaration.

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There are more problems with the facts and premises of the SF Gate article than common sense can stand. Sadly, people eat this stuff up and vote accordingly.

For starters, California’s runoff technically comes much later than the January-to-April timeframe mentioned if we have a good snow season and the snowpack stays put until late spring or early summer, but we’ll let that one slide since snow is apparently as rare as common sense among some Bay Area writers.

Then there’s this ridiculous question from the article: “Does it make economic sense to drop environmental protections to move around more water?” One premise behind this is that human beings are the lowest forms of life on the environmental totem pole. The other premise is the economy doesn’t matter. Both are false.

Ask the growers in California’s Westlands Water District how economically viable their farms are with 0 percent water to grow the estimated 60 crops they produce. Fallowing their land does not stop the tax payments from being due to Fresno or Kings County coffers.

Then there’s this bit of hyperbole: “But so far, no one except for the San Joaquin Valley growers and their advocates, is using the ‘d’ word.”

Really? Rice growers in the Sacramento Valley aren’t worried that a “Shasta critical year” could reduce rice acreage and their ability to farm? The City of Sacramento and neighboring suburbs are not worried about drought – let’s use the word rather than be coy about it – as Folsom Reservoir reaches historic lows because flows in the American River have all but ceased?

My concern isn’t for those writing such ridiculous pieces as they sip their imported bottles of expensive water. My concern is for those who fall for the factual lies and false premises spread by such yellow journalism.

Since it’s too early to worry about water, the magnanimous thing for San Francisco to do would be to pull the plug on O’Shaughnessy Dam and transfer all its Hetch Hetchy water to Westlands Water District. By doing so the Sierra Club would get the glacial valley back that John Muir fought unsuccessfully to protect and San Francisco could get many of sniveling farmers they so dislike to shut up and stop complaining about this imaginary drought.


Follow me on Twitter @ToddFitchette

Discuss this Blog Entry 7

Jan McCleery (not verified)
on Jan 21, 2014

This blog tries to say the water issue pits farmers against environmental snobs. It tries to be cute but it’s just very wrong.

There are people in the North fighting for their communities, for their farms, for their way of life. Whereas this blog says we should send all the water to Westlands - farmers with junior water rights.

This is a real drought. Not man-made. Not artificial. It won’t be solved by a drought declaration and then killing every fish in the North so one group can continue to over plant desert farms and ship almonds to Asia.

We need balance so the entire state can be productive. We need balance so we don’t cause the salmon to become extinct. We need balance so the communities in the Delta can continue to thrive in addition to farmers in the valley.

We need a state-wide plan for regional self-sufficiency. Recycling, desalination, conservation, ground water recharge, and a limit to the amount of farmland we plant with water-thirsty trees.

on Jan 24, 2014

O’Shaughnessy Dam and reservoir serves as the primary water source for the Hetch Hetchy Project, which provides municipal water in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since they believe that there will be plenty of runoff in the spring Todd Fitchette is suggesting that they drain their reservoir and send it to the Westlands Water District. He is not saying to send from either Shasta or Oroville dams.

Steve Baker (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2014

As a hydrogeologist working in the western states, I recognize the variability of seasonal precipitation in different regions of our state. I believe the reason our Governor declared a state drought was for multiple reasons.
• Current precipitation is reflecting significantly lower than normal precipitation as compared to the length of the weather record (I believe over a 100 years).
• The predictions made by our federal and state weather and emergency response experts indicate that precipitation during the remainder of this wet season (thru April) is expected to be minimal.
• State and federal water storage systems are well below their expected volume of water storage at this time.
• Estimated state water budgets indicate that our normal water needs across the state are well above the water that we expect to be available.
• Delta water flows and other rivers and streams in California are being and will be impacted by low surface flows.
• The backup plan for low water years usually come from groundwater however in our most dry regions of irrigated water regions, groundwater aquifers are recognized as overpumped and unhealthy in their ability to provide adequate surrogate water supplies or appropriate water quality.
• Water distribution around the state is controlled by the Prior Appropriative Doctrine. Farmers in the western portion of the Central Valley are considered at the end of the pecking order. This means when there is not enough water in the state, they are the first to get hit with reduced water deliveries. The system of managing water has winners and losers when water scarcity occurs. At the same time, this same area of the Central Valley normally produces a significant amount of food for our population. What is the best thing to do??
• Loss of farm work equates to poverty for the populations that live in these regions. No alternative work is available. Political pressures are understandably high in these areas.
It comes down to a couple points: 1) Do Californians consider themselves as a united citizenship that cares about each other or separate and independent? Hardship is usually non uniformly spread across our state. How do we best respond? and 2) We need time to prepare for the needs of a thirsty population. If we wait until April-June, the ramifications of significant dry conditions will not be responded to in an effective manner. It is best to respond as early as possible in hope that lots of rain will wash our memories of drought away, at least for this year.
In my view, the Governor has made a good call. The most important component of our state drought response is how the California public pulls together to make the symptom of drought disappear.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 23, 2014

have we even talked about desalinitzation (Desalting) the ocean water?? we have not even talked about that???

xrs (not verified)
on Jan 24, 2014

Yes, Anon, we in the scientific community have talked a great deal about desalination. Many experimental projects have been ongoing for many years. Perhaps you simply haven't been listening to the conversation? I would suggest bringing yourself up to speed by reading about the subject on, say, Wikipedia for a few minutes before making alarming, uninformed comments. Here's a nice link:

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 24, 2014

Any talk of desalination of sea water should be prefaced by a review of those projects along the CA coast that have been completed, are in progress, or planned. If that is done, it will become clear that desal is not the answer. The costs, energy requirements, reliability, volume, and especially the permitting are enormous obstacles to overcome. The track record for CA on this is dismal at best. Desal is not the answer, nor is piping existing water through the delta. What is needed are a few new storage facilities such as a second San Luis project on the west side of the northern Sacramento valley, raising Shasta dam and a couple more Sierra reservoirs.

Redstateteacher (not verified)
on May 18, 2016

As long as we talk about a rail project and not a pipeline project there will not be a solution. Also, why aren't we dredging and excavating the storage areas? State and federal teps need to push for more protection for our ag products and limit foriegn farm ownership.

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