Sunday, August 12, 2012

Will Delta bypass kill a rural community?

The New York Times today reports from Courtland, California, population 355, a pear-producing area in the Delta that feeds into San Francisco Bay.  In late July, state and federal officials announced plans to build two 25-mile tunnels to take water from the Sacramento River near Courtland, which is just 17 miles south of Sacramento.   Norimitsu Onishi's story does a good job of articulating the pros and cons associated with the tunnels, including their consequences for Courtland and its denizens.
Like highways with no exits, the $14 billion giant pipelines would run under the delta in a straight line and deliver the water to aqueducts that feed water to large corporate farms and densely population regions in Central and Southern California.  
Supporters say the pipeline will improve the environment of an increasingly fragile delta by replacing the pumps that now suck water directly from the southern delta.  More than anything else, backers--led by Gov. Jerry Brown, who failed in his bid to build a similar project in his first term as governor three decades ago--say the tunnels will secure a supply of water to California's most economically vital areas.  
Among opponents are Courtland's residents, many of whom are engaged in pear production.  One of their slogans is "Build the tunnel.  Kill the delta."  They know that their economic impact is a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to the value of the agricultural output farther south.  While delta farmers produced about $800 million in agricultural products in 2009, counties to the south--in California's Great Central Valley--produced some $25 billion worth.

But the delta's residents offer not only economic arguments; they offer sentimental ones, too:
Here in the upper delta, the least urbanized area of the region, small towns invariably described as sleepy dot winding levee roads.  There are family-owned general stores and no chain stores.  Old Victorian houses belonging to farm owners can be seen from the levees, as well as encampments for the migrant workers during harvest.  Vestiges of ethnic groups that build the levees or farmed the delta can be found in this area's fading Chinatowns and Japantowns, reinforcing the impression of an earlier time.

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