The drought’s silver lining

It’s forced us to confront the Golden State’s scarcity of water

Crises have a way of compelling change. California’s four-year drought has forced us to confront, once and for all, the scarcity of the state’s most precious resource, its water.

A consensus is emerging among Northern Californians that, unless we act now, we may see our water, including groundwater, drained for the benefit of users south of the Sacramento Valley.

The threat has three main sources: the federal Bureau of Reclamation, whose 10-year plan would send 600,000 acre-feet of water south annually for a decade; the state of California, which wants to build two huge tunnels in the Delta to send more Sacramento River water south; and the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District, which wants to sell surface water south and replace it with groundwater.

Local orchardists forced lately to dig deeper wells understand what’s at stake. They’ve seen what has happened in the over-pumped San Joaquin Valley, where aquifers have collapsed and the ground subsided, sometimes by several feet.

Who, we might ask, is working to protect our groundwater? Not our state legislators, who know where the votes and campaign funds are. Not our congressional delegation, for the same reasons. And not Gov. Brown, who seems determined to build his terrible tunnels.

Defending the North State against these powerful forces are several grassroots organizations such as the Butte Environmental Council, the Sacramento River Preservation Trust and AquAlliance. Of the three, only AquAlliance is focused strictly on water. Led by the redoubtable Barbara Vlamis, its only paid staff member, and with the help of a cadre of volunteers, it is putting up fierce resistance in the courts.

It was AquAlliance that forced the feds to come clean about their 10-year plan for water transfers. It was AquAlliance that sued to stop state water agencies from allowing water-quality-law violations injurious to Sacramento River salmon. And it is AquAlliance that is leading the legal challenge to GCID’s plan to put in five massive new production wells designed to free up surface water for sale.

That’s a lot for such a small group to do. It needs your help, mostly to pay for legal expenses and consultants. Please, go to and donate.