In a photo taken Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011, farmer Steve Heringer is along… (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
California’s long-running water wars typically pit farmers against environmentalists, but this time the state’s growers are facing off against each other about plans to build a massive water system in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
Farmers like Steve Heringer, whose family has grown grapes and grains near the Northern California town of Clarksburg for five generations, said plans for a new canal or tunnel that would carry river water to farms and cities in the south could ruin his land.
But 150 miles south in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, Steve Patricio said he can’t see a future for his business of growing, packing and shipping cantaloupe and honeydew without a new tunnel or canal.
The issue of how much water should be pumped from the delta is vital to the two-thirds of Californians who rely on it for drinking water and the many farmers who depend on it to cultivate 4 million acres in the nation’s most productive agricultural state. It’s also crucial to the delta estuary, which experts say has serious environmental problems.
The decline of once-abundant fish species has triggered regulations that limited pumping in recent years. Roiled by the restrictions and a drought, farmers and urban water users south of the delta have rallied around plans for a new conveyance system, which they say would capture and divert river water around the delta to ensure an adequate supply.
“For anyone like myself, who lives and farms south of the delta, any solution without a new conveyance is not a solution. It’s a step backwards,’’ Patricio said.
But farmers in the delta view the Bay Delta Conservation Plan as a water grab. A similar sentiment killed a proposed canal at the ballot box in 1982.
Currently, various proposals are being prepared by state and federal agencies, environmental groups and water districts that contract for water from two existing government water projects.
Although officials haven’t settled on a plan, some Northern California farmers think it’s only a matter of time before a lot more water is pumped away from the area. They argue the planning process favors the water districts — or contractors — who pay for the planning and will benefit from a new water system.
“The plan is a joke. It’s carried out by water contractors who want as much unrestricted water as they can get,’’ said Mike Robinson, a fourth generation delta farmer from Stockton. “The decision of what to build has already been made; they are just falling over themselves to justify it.’’