On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to announce the state will build a $13 billion peripheral tunnel beneath the Delta. Score one for the billionaire-backed powers who seek to control California's water.
They got this far in part by dominating the message, unscrupulously. Like their scare tactic of the doomsday Delta earthquake causing statewide water shortages.
To counter such propaganda, Restore the Delta has produced "Over Troubled Waters," a new 45-minute documentary. The film outlines California's water politics, provides a sense of the Delta as a beautiful and endangered place, and gives voice to Delta residents.
"It's to tell our side of the story," Restore the Delta's Barbara Barrigan-Parilla said. "And to dispel the myths that have been put out there about the Delta."
Directed by Stockton businessman and filmmaker Russell Fisher, narrated by actor Ed Begley Jr., "Over Troubled Waters" is a compact "Cadillac Desert" of research, embellished by sophisticated graphics and beautiful nature photography.
Delta people abound. Fishing guides, state senators, journalists, American Indians, veteran water attorneys, salmon fishermen, civil engineers and farmers say what the Delta means to them.
"If the water contractors and those guys get their way, my days of guiding are pretty much over out here," says Delta fishing guide Bobby Barrack.
Says a salmon fisherman: "A healthy Delta is probably the most important thing in my life."
Delta folk also get their say on procrustean plans to detour Sacramento River water around the overdrafted Delta largely for the benefit of corporate owners of inferior farmland in the semiarid south Valley.
"For the first time in my life, I feel like the state is an enemy," said Rogene Reynolds, member of a family that has farmed in the Delta since the 1880s.
The film places the peripheral tunnel squarely with historic travesties such as L.A.'s infamous Owens Valley water grab and the toxic ag runoff that caused animal deaths and deformities at Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge.
The film even mentions "Chinatown." That ought to resonate with Angelenos.
"In the Golden State, water has always been the greatest treasure," intones Begley. "The resource most worth fighting over and controlling."
Delta history is sketched. Newcomers displace American Indians in the mid-1800s, build levees and turn Delta soil into prime farmland. Farms and fisheries thrive together for more than 100 years.
Then, in the 20th century, state and federal governments build dams, canals and giant pumps to move Delta water south to dryer parts of the state. Designers plan to siphon north state rivers but are blocked; the onus falls entirely on the Delta.
"They didn't have any idea about the adverse impacts to fisheries when they conceived this stuff," laments Stockton water attorney John Herrick.
The film exposes the state's cuckoo water policies. The water board has issued export permits for 8.4 times as much water as flows through the Delta in an average year; for three times as much water as the wettest year on record!
It's a slow-motion train wreck, but powerful special interests keep feeding coal into the engine. Their machinations are old-school power politics. They emasculate state regulators charged with guarding water quality.
"Unfortunately, our agencies that are charged with implementing and enforcing those laws have become weak," said state Sen. Lois Wolk of Davis, "and have become weaker over time."
They push Delta counties out of the room.
"It's sad, but there's no deal to be made," Stockton water attorney Dante Nomellini said. "There's no honor. They want to be able to muscle when the time comes."
The film debunks the pro-canal propaganda. A civil engineer says a Delta-destroying earthquake is highly unlikely. A think tank analyst says water cutbacks causing 40 percent unemployment in Mendota is a myth.
Nobody mentions the blow-dried buffoon Sean Hannity, who blamed water cutbacks on wacko environmentalists perversely prizing an irrelevant Delta smelt over God-fearing ma and pa farmers. But his "people vs. fish" nonsense is debunked too.
The film reveals that the peripheral tunnel is not about water. Or rational, fair, 21st-century water policy. It is about money. Water is money.
The powers who understand that want to control California's water via the peripheral tunnel.
"It's more valuable than gold," says Barrack, the fishing guide. "It's more valuable than oil. And the billionaire guy is the only one that understands that. And he wants to make sure that you don't ever realize what he's actually up to."
"Over Troubled Waters" will premier Aug. 8 at Sacramento's Crest Theater. It will screen Aug. 20 at the Empire Theatre in Stockton. Congressman Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, will appear. Copies of the DVD can be purchased at Restore the Delta's website.