Big Ag’s water heist

A House bill would drastically alter delivery rights in California

The author is a water-policy analyst for AquAlliance (, an organization that exists to defend Northern California waters and encourages public involvement in its well-monitoring program.

The San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act (HR 1837), by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare), threatens to permanently transfer Sacramento Valley water rights to politically connected water purveyors in the San Joaquin Valley.

This bill would harm Sacramento Valley farms, cities, reservoirs, streams and salmon. Reps. Wally Herger and Tom McClintock should join with Northern California politicians of all stripes to oppose this water heist.

Federal water contractors south of the Delta with junior water rights willingly accepted the limitations inherent in being last of a long list of water users. Currently, senior water rights are held by farmers in the Sacramento Valley and fish.

AquAlliance knows that relentless demand to pump evermore Sacramento Valley water into the San Joaquin Valley persists regardless of the amount of rain and snow nature provides. During dry years the junior contractors complain that pumping restrictions are unreasonable. During wet weather they campaign to make the tenuous supply irrevocable. Nunes’ bill would erase restrictions on moving surface and groundwater through the Delta, drain Shasta and Trinity reservoirs and greatly increase demand on Sacramento Valley aquifer systems, particularly during dry years when reserves are most important.

Local opposition to increased water transfers out of our area was evident when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority presented their plan to annually suck 195 billion more gallons into their San Joaquin Valley canals. Hundreds of citizens showed up at the Masonic Family Center in Chico, took over the meeting, and expressed their loathing of the project. AquAlliance is prepared to engage in the legal battle to defend our region when this project’s EIR/EIS is released later this summer.

Meanwhile, Nunes’ bill would abolish policies intended to protect Northern Californians’ senior water rights.

Nunes blames water restrictions for San Joaquin Valley unemployment that, according to University of the Pacific economics professor Jeffrey Michael, is actually caused by the home-foreclosure crisis and collapse of the construction industry. HR 1837 would destabilize the economy and jeopardize water reliability in the Sacramento Valley by eliminating barriers to selling groundwater from the Tuscan Aquifer.

A stable California economy requires reduced reliance on Delta water and maintaining existing area-of-origin water rights of Central Valley water. AquAlliance works for these goals.