Lawyer Dante Nomellini at Leadership Forum warns of Delta water grab

Dante Nomellini, attorney and agricultural water-rights champion, talks about the current state of California water and the Delta during the Lodi Chamber of Commerce’s leadership forum at Hutchins Street Square on Thursday, June 23, 2011.

Standing before dozens of slides charting water quality, export statistics and salinity levels in the California Delta, attorney Dante Nomellini warned Thursday of efforts to divert water from Northern California and send it south.

"The Delta is the frontlines of a larger fight," said the water attorney, who spoke as part of the Leadership Forum at Hutchins Street Square.

Without the Delta, which provides water for more than half of the agricultural production in San Joaquin County, the region's finances would suffer, he said. Furthermore, any potential deals for the future of California's water do not limit the power of the government, and any deal made should protect the water rights from arbitrary actions, he said.

Nomellini also pointed to incidents in the 1970s, '90s and early 2000s, when California governors declared a state of emergency and suspended the water rights of agencies and individuals. The situation could happen again in a severe enough drought, resulting in water being shipped south, he said.

"There is no evidence the government will help Northern California when the time comes," he said.

He also attacked research he deemed as biased against the region.

Nomellini cited studies about the Delta sustaining heavy damage in an earthquake. The research suggests that earthquakes on active faults, like the San Andreas, could also occur on inactive ones that run under the Delta, he said. The research is aimed at undermining the value and sustainability of the Delta so it can simply be mined for water.

"It's a blatant water grab," he said.

Nomellini pointed out that the number of striped bass has been steadily declining in the Delta. State water officials, who once saw the fishes as important indicator species, now view them as a nuisance.

"It's like the canary in the coal mine. Instead of trying to save the canary, you just kill it and throw it away," Nomellini said.

If built, the peripheral canal could also be the target of a terrorist attack, he said.

"You think terrorists are plotting to blow up Sherman Island?" he asked. "Or would they prefer to target a 40-mile long, 33-foot diameter pipe that feeds the southern portion of the state?"

Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at

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