John Herrick wants you to know there is a thief trying to steal from you. No, your wallet and purse are probably safe. But the San Joaquin River Delta is under attack.
Herrick, general counsel for the South Delta Water Agency, explained the threat to Delta water rights and what he called the “insane policies” that could be the Delta’s undoing.
“It’s time to get pitchforks and torches and march on the government,” he said, as he delivered the first speech of the Leadership Forum at Hutchins Street Square.
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan is a massive project to divert water from the Delta for agricultural needs farther south. It would require 50-year water right permits and divert 15,000 cubic feet per second of water per year before it ever reaches the Delta. Instead, the water would travel through two tunnels and end up far outside the region.
Herrick, from his work as general counsel and as a registered lobbyist, had a long list of reasons why this plan is not only wrong, it’s illegal.
State laws require that only excess water can be taken from the Delta, not water that people, animals and farmland rely on. Also, if a project of that scale is built, those responsible must improve the quality of the environment in the area to help mitigate the impact.
Herrick said this project will do just the opposite.
“Can a freshwater estuary be improved by removing 3.7 million acre-feet of water?” Herrick asked the audience.
The expected, “No,” was chorused in reply.
“Yeah. It’s that nuts,” he said.
Herrick reviewed the recent history of water management in the state, including the 1995 Monterey Agreement. In this policy, legislators removed a provision from their contracts that required them to dial down water use in times of state emergency. This allowed non-surplus water to be sold, even during drought years
“Here’s the part where we pull people out of office, beat them up, handcuff them, and throw ’em in jail,” he joked.
The water diversion project will also undermine endangered species instead of helping them grow stronger, said Herrick.
“You have to make a plan to improve the species if you’re going to, um, kill them,” he quipped.
A cost-benefit analysis is not planned for the project, which could cost about $15 billion over the 40 years it takes to build.
The state’s response?
“Let’s build it anyway and figure out later how to operate it and make it work,” paraphrased Herrick.
In the end, Herrick explained, the project won’t increase the amount of available water or water storage space, and it won’t help fish populations. He challenged the audience to do something about it.
“Are you guys going to sit there and drink water out of your tap while these guys ruin the Delta?” he demanded.
The audience hollered “No.”
“When people are cheating, ignoring reality and doing things that are worse for the state of California, tell them ‘no,’” he said.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.