Water 'Double Standard' Hurts Farmers, Benefits Pelosi's Region

Bay area residents may soon lose their prestigious Hetch Hetchy tap water with a recently filed lawsuit addressing severe water restrictions. The restrictions have been put on rural Californians and farmers, but have left elite Bay area residents like Nancy Pelosi exempt from feeling the pain of those same water restrictions.

A lawsuit recently filed in federal court by Fresno group CESAR challenges water diversions from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to Bay area residents. Bay area businesses and citizens have long benefitted from an environmental regulation exception that provides the area with particularly fresh and abundant water. This is a benefit not enjoyed by many less politically influential areas, including farmers in the San Joaquin Valley.

“San Joaquin Valley farm customers on the Central Valley Project have long suffered water cutbacks for federally protected fish such as the delta smelt and winter-run chinook salmon in the delta. Officials consult with wildlife agencies, in accordance with the Endangered Species Act,” reports the Fresno Bee.

Bay area businesses and influential leaders are clearly concerned with the potential stemming of the mountain fresh water tide to their region. Back in 2012, a San Francisco ballot measure was promoted as working toward restoring the Hetch Hetchy valley to its state prior to the installation of the O'Shaughnessy Dam.

Remarks made by Carl Guardino, president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, concerning effects on Bay area businesses of the potential 2012 measure included: "Hetch Hetchy is a critical water source not only for San Francisco, but throughout Silicon Valley. It is critical to our economy. We care deeply about this," reported the San Jose Mercury News.

That article also noted: “Critics of the proposed measure -- including Silicon Valley leaders, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer -- say the region can't afford to drain the reservoir or replace its pristine water.” San Francisco’s Mayor even went so far as to call the measure “insane.”

While questions arose around the cost and motivations behind the 2012 measure, political leaders opposed to stemming the tide of mountain fresh water to their region stood to benefit from maintaining water restrictions only to those outside their area. Meanwhile, areas that don’t house power player politicians continue to face harsh environmental regulations and water supply troubles.

In 1913 Sierra Club founder John Muir fought and lost an initial struggle over the Hetch Hetchy Valley. San Francisco leaders reportedly convinced Congress to move forward with building the O'Shaughnessy Dam.

“The dam was finished in 1923 and the valley submerged. Today, the water -- a snow melt so pure it doesn't have to be filtered -- flows 160 miles to the Bay Area,” described the Mercury News.

After passage of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act by the U.S. House of Representatives, Pelosi released a statement saying: 

The measure picks winners and losers in the current crisis, and fails to produce any new water to alleviate the effects of the drought. Instead, what we need is an ‘all of the above’ strategy to complement the ongoing work of state and local leaders: to encourage conservation, recycling, desalinization, off-stream storage, and additional support for the communities suffering most. 

However, selective enforcement of environmental regulations in California has also chosen winners and losers, and Pelosi has not cried out against it.

Follow Michelle Moons on Twitter @MichelleDiana


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