Articles

The Fight for California’s Fresh Water: America’s Water Crisis (Part 3/3)


EMERSON ROSENTHAL: The most
important thing to know about fresh water in California is
that there just isn’t enough. The second thing you quickly
find out is that the state’s no stranger to full-on
water wars. Basically, whoever controls
the water in California controls the future. Currently the dominant player in
the state’s big agriculture is Paramount Farms,
which is owned and operated by Stewart Resnick. Stewart’s goals have recently
aligned very closely with Governor Jerry Brown’s. WALT GRAY: California’s water
war is heating up. The governor has just unveiled
a new $14 billion plan to build two tunnels underneath the
delta, transferring water from northern California
to southern California. The governor says his plan will
create a reliable water supply and still maintain
a healthy ecosystem in the delta. Not everyone agrees. EMERSON ROSENTHAL: That’s
why we came out west. We wanted a firsthand look into
the newest chapter of California’s water works. So, our first job was to meet
Congressman John Garamendi, who has been fighting
Jerry Brown’s water proposals since the ’70s. JOHN GARAMENDI: This proposal
goes back at least 40 years. Jerry Brown, in the 1970s, when
he was governor, wanted to build this system, got it
through the legislature. I and several other folks
decided that was a bad thing and we fought it. We had a referendum. And now he’s back. He said it very clearly, I’m
going to do it this time. What are you going
to do, governor? You’re so determined to relive
your old life that you want to destroy this thing? You want to build a system that
would destroy the largest estuary on the west coast of
the Western hemisphere? Is that what this is
all about, just so you say I did it? It’s the north versus
the south. It’s the war of water
in California. It’s been going on since the
gold rush, and it’s continuing to this day. ADAM KEATS: This area right here
is the point at which the water leaves the public realm
and enters the private realm, so to speak. The equation is solely focused
on big, Southern California agribusiness. Huge mega-corporations that are
some of the largest farm interests in the world,
producing big-money crops. And that’s the primary thing
driving this thing. And no one has a right
to own the water. It doesn’t mean you can totally
deprive the rest of the state of its access
to the water– and when I say rest of the
state, that includes the fish and the birds and the animals. Early on, in the early 2000s,
mid 2000s, we noticed huge declines of fish species
in the delta. 6 million splittail were killed
in one count, and 14,000, 15,000 salmon. Instead of having the power in
one interest, the San Joaquin Valley farmers– and that’s
primarily one company, Paramount Farms– instead of having one big boy
controlling the whole game, have the state control it, and
have the state control with very strict rules, in terms of
who gets water, when they get water, why they get water. And include in that mix all
the birds and fish in the environment and ecosystem
up here. But you can answer all the
questions just by figuring out where the money is, who’s
making the most money off the deal. EMERSON ROSENTHAL: Moving large
amounts of water from one place to another
isn’t anything new. But the water from the San
Joaquin delta is already spoken for. By law, farmers who have lived
here in the San Joaquin Valley for over 250 years still
maintain priority rights over the delta’s water. They get it first, and their
livelihoods depend on it. RUDY MUSSI: My father
was a farmer. I farm with my brother,
and I’ve done that for the last 50 years. All this proposal does is just
steal the water from one area and ship it to another area. The reasoning changes
all the time. At first, it was to enhance the
aquatic species out here. Well, the Academy of Science
said the peripheral tunnels or canal won’t enhance
the species. So then they said, well, we’ll
do adaptive management. So, in other words, we’re going
to build this and then we’ll figure it out
how to work it. We fought this battle in 1982,
and I think my dad fought this battle in the ’50s
and the ’60s. It’s always been somebody trying
to steal our water. Anytime there’s a finite amount
of water, there’s always somebody that doesn’t
have it that wants it. And don’t get me wrong. We don’t mind sharing any
surplus water, but don’t take my water. I depend on it for
my livelihood. EMERSON ROSENTHAL: Right now,
we’re heading into Clarksburg, where we’re going to film where
they want to begin these new tunnels. Sacramento River, chilling
on a private levee. Snuck out here so we can
see it for ourselves. If Jerry Brown’s peripheral
canal proposal goes through, they’ll take two large tunnels
underground, right under here, and 9,000 cubic inches of water
per second will be taken from Sacramento River all
the way down south. And basically, all the farmers
out here are completely dependent on this water. Potentially, that could
all end as quickly as shutting off a faucet. John Herrick is one of a number
of lawyers working to stop the Bay Delta conservation plan from approval. Along with a number of
colleagues, John’s been on the job for about 30
years already. JOHN HERRICK: Their proposal is,
we’re going to improve the delta by moving our intake. So their plan is to make the
delta better by having less fresh water flow through it. It’s that nuts. EMERSON ROSENTHAL: Why does
the Department of Water Resources and the Department of
the Interior want them to have those water rights? JOHN HERRICK: That’s an
interesting question. I don’t know. One of the things that should
be separated, but isn’t, is the fact that the Department of
Water Resources is a seller to the contractors. So large amounts of money go
from the people who want the water, exporters, to
the department. That connection of buyer-seller
has resulted in the Department of Water
Resources following the desires of their clients,
their buyers. In our opinion, although we
haven’t figured out a way, there are people that
should be put in jail for these things. EMERSON ROSENTHAL: All right,
so basically, all of the proponents of the peripheral
canal have pointed us in the direction of the Department
of Water Resources. But unfortunately, after we
set up an appointment with them, they claimed that they
heard some things about us and decided to cancel our 2
o’clock appointment. So it is 10 o’clock now. We figure we might jump in,
because we have to hear from their side, and their reasons
behind wanting this peripheral canal. Yeah, we’re doing
an interview. How’s it going? -Oh, you know. I work for state parks. How good can it be? -This too shall pass. -It’s entertaining. EMERSON ROSENTHAL:
Uh, yeah we did. For 10 o’clock, originally. The secretary was sharp enough
to divert us away from the building and not let
us talk to anybody. But we got some good pizza recommendations, so we’re cool. Once we got back to New York, we
realized that after all of our appointments were canceled
with the Department of Water Resources, the Natural Resources
Agency, and the chemist who helped back the
proposal’s science, we didn’t have a single statement from
the proponents of the plan, let alone a positive one. So we tried again. OK, so I just found the list
of all of the supporters. This is everybody who
is a proponent of the peripheral canal. Let’s see if we can
talk to somebody. [PHONE RINGING] -Financial Resources Agency,
this is Kim, how may I direct your call? Hi there. My name is Emerson Rosenthal,
and I’m calling on behalf of Vice Media. OK. Can you hold for just
one second? Let me see if there’s
somebody available. Hi, this is Nancy Vogel,
director of public affairs for the department. Hi, you’ve reached [INAUDIBLE] with Paramount Farms, please
leave a message and I will return your call. We had someone here in the
office that covers Bay Delta. They’re not in right now, you
can leave a message– Were you the woman that
sent us to that really great pizza place? Yes. That’s me. OK. Oh good, you guys liked
Zelda’s, after all? Yeah, it was delicious. Just one second, let me see if
there’s somebody available. Will you please hold for
just one second? One moment. Thank you. One moment. [MUSIC PLAYING] EMERSON ROSENTHAL: The only
response we got was an email from the governor’s press
office, with a link to their press release. In the meantime, the governor’s
been hard at work pushing the proposal past a
legislative vote, in spite of the opposition. JERRY BROWN: This proposal
balances the concerns of those who live and work on the delta,
those who rely on it for water, and those who
appreciate its beauty, its fish, waterfowl and wildlife. EMERSON ROSENTHAL: So we’ll have
to go with that as their official statement. And with all lines of
communication cut off between the designers of the plan and
the people asking questions, the Bay Delta conservation plan
is quickly becoming an imminent reality in the haze
of California politics. Will governor Jerry Brown win
the water war he’s been waging since the ’70s? Is this a new precedent for
controlling water in America? In the words of Detective Walsh,
in perhaps the most famous film about California’s
water, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” [MUSIC PLAYING]

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