Water blues

BEC’s 2013 Code Blue series addresses crucial water-use issues facing the North State

Nani Teves, Butte Environmental Council’s water outreach coordinator.

Nani Teves, Butte Environmental Council’s water outreach coordinator.

photo by christine g.k. lapado-breglia

Code Blue connection:
Go to www.becnet.org to learn more about Butte Environmental Council’s Code Blue 2013 water outreach campaign. The next Code Blue event—Water Activism Training—will take place on April 18, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Chico Peace & Justice Center (526 Broadway). Free, with dinner included, but space is limited to 20 people and registration required: Email nanibay@hotmail.com or call 891-6424. Ask about the Code Blue “stamp card”: Attend 4 Code Blue events for eligibility to win a gray-water or rainwater-catchment system, or a river-raft trip.

Nani Teves says it’s not too late to do something about Gov. Jerry Brown’s new plan to send North State water south, and she and other local water activists have a plan of their own to inform residents on what’s at stake.

Teves, water outreach coordinator for Butte Environmental Council, was referring in a recent interview to BEC’s Code Blue 2013 water outreach campaign, which kicked off on Feb. 5 with a free forum at Chico State called “Ethical Issues and Water: An Interfaith Dialogue.” The Code Blue series of no-cost, water-centric educational events—held “so that people are aware of what’s happening regarding local water, and are given the tools to do something about it”—will run throughout the year.

“We’re about a tenth of the way through,” said Teves of the series.

Included on the Code Blue schedule of free events: a talk titled Science and Politics of North State Water (May 1); an educational field trip (June 8) to the Bay Delta, under which two multibillion-dollar, 40-foot-diameter tunnels are planned to be built to send North State water south; and fall workshops on installing water-conserving gray-water and rainwater-catchment systems.

“Last week, we showed the film Last Call at the Oasis [at the Grange Hall] in Paradise,” Teves said. “It’s a good overview movie about water.” Last Call at the Oasis, for the unfamiliar, is about “the vital role water plays in our lives, exposing the defects in the current system and depicting communities already struggling with its ill effects,” as the film’s website describes it. Activists such as Erin Brockovich and Robert Glennon, author of Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What to Do About It, appear in the film.

Up next, on April 18, is Code Blue’s water-activist training workshop, which will feature several prominent local water activists, including Marty Dunlap of Citizens Water Watch and Grace Marvin of the local Sierra Club (see column note).

“I’m really excited about that one,” Teves said of the workshop. “It’s good because it shows people how to do something: Now that you know our [North State] groundwater is being exported [south], what do you do with that information? You can take that information and, rather than be depressed, do something about it.” One of the issues that will be addressed—perhaps seemingly small, but important—is how to get one’s point across at public meetings that observe a three-minute time limit for speakers.

“There are a couple of big issues [regarding North State water use],” said Teves, referring to the general thrust of Code Blue’s coverage. “No. 1 is the twin-tunnels project … which will move the [current water] pumps up north [from where they are now located] and will route more water out of the Delta to the San Joaquin Valley.”

Championed by Gov. Brown, the “ambitious” tunnels, as a recent U-T San Diego article described them, “would be tall enough to comfortably fit an adult giraffe, wide enough for three freeway lanes and have ample room to carry enough water to serve 35,000 homes on a typical day.”

As the same article pointed out, “This is Brown’s second bid for a … north-to-south [water] conveyance. In 1982, during his first go-round as governor, voters overwhelmingly blocked [what was then termed] the Peripheral Canal. Much of the opposition was fueled by fears in the north that the canal would drain the delta to benefit Southern California.” This time, however, Brown’s proposed tunnel project does not need voter approval; a cost analysis is due on April 22 and its final design and environmental approval are several months down the road for an anticipated 2016 groundbreaking.

Teves noted that the increased amount of water flowing through the two tunnels, versus the current single tunnel, will go “mostly for huge agribusiness in the San Joaquin Valley,” which currently suffers from dry and salinized soil. “I would rather see solar panels go [into those areas] if those farms aren’t good for growing any more,” she offered.

Additionally, since areas south will be able to get only the North State’s “extra water,” pressure is put on North State farmers and irrigation districts “to sell surface-water rights—private transactions that occur one at a time,” Teves said. The twin tunnels offer a means by which North State surface water can be easily transferred south, aided “by the money from big agriculture. …

“Then [North State] farmers will be using groundwater after selling their surface water [down south], and that will affect the water table [in this area].

“And that’s what we’re really worried about. It’s huge. And they call that ‘conjunctive use.’”

Conjunctive use—banking surface water in a groundwater basin for use during dry years—is touted as “managing surface and ground-water so it’s more readily available to the greatest number of people,” said Teves, “which sounds nice, but can end up looking like selling our surface water and replacing it with groundwater and depleting the water table.”

California’s water issues can be “tricky and complex,” BEC Executive Director Robyn DiFalco was quoted as saying in a recent BEC press release. “But it’s never been more important for the public to have a solid understanding of what’s being proposed and the potential impacts on regional water. …

“The long-term goals of the [Code Blue] project will be increased public participation in demanding sustainable water policies that protect the Northern Sacramento Valley and Delta water supplies for fish, wildlife and residents.”