Despite what we've heard, the Chinese characters for "crisis" and "opportunity" really aren't the same. That's a stretch motivational speakers and others use to make us feel better when we're facing a catastrophe. Like a drought.

Still, it would be a lousy politician who couldn't find a way to capitalize on a crisis. Jerry Brown is not a lousy politician, far from it. And neither is Anthony Cannella, for that matter.

Friday's announcement that the State Water Project --which Brown's father, Edmund (the first Gov. Brown), brought into reality -- would not deliver a drop of irrigation water to farmers in the South San Joaquin Valley is a crisis. That's real and that's possibly devastating to a lot of communities, farmers, employees and people who like to eat. It doesn't mean they won't get water from other sources (the federal Central Valley Project, underground storage or through water transfers), but the state project has no water to spare.

Undoubtedly, the first such pronouncement in the 54-year history of the SWP is creating fear -- even among those who don't live along the Valley's west side where that water is necessary for their livelihoods. And fear is far too strong a motivator to waste.

So Brown's administration capitalized, saying Friday that if we just had a better plumbing system we could have captured 800,000 acre-feet of water when the state was wetter back in 2010 and we could be tapping that water right now. The implication is clear: Build my twin tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and we'll be better able to withstand the effects of the next drought.


Advertisement

There are a couple of problems with that thinking. First, providing emergency water during a drought was not one of the original priorities for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, i.e., the twin tunnels. It was supposed to save the Delta while making it easier to move water south. In fact, those pushing the BDCP insisted at an open house in Stockton last week that no additional water would be shipped south out of the Delta.

Second, saying that we wouldn't be in this fix if we just had the tunnels doesn't, ahem, hold water.

Even if the state had been able to divert 800,000 acre-feet off the Sacramento River back in 2010, where would it have stored it? It's not like there is a reservoir the size of Lake McClure sitting around empty. Our reservoirs were all close to full in 2010 -- which is what has enabled us to manage through the past three dry years.

So, unless you build storage first, the tunnels won't do anyone any good.

And that gets us to Anthony Cannella, who isn't so much playing the fear card as he is playing the "let's get busy" card. Cannella, the Republican from Ceres, and Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, have authored a bill to put a $9.2 billion water bond on the November ballot. We haven't gotten into the details of what they're proposing, but building more storage -- above and below ground -- is the only way our state will have any chance to survive the droughts that are a certainty in our future.

That much is obvious to just about everyone who lives in the Valley.

"I am appalled that California has allowed our water problems to devolve to this level," wrote Sen. Tom Berryhill in a news release shortly after the SWP announcement was made. "If we had the additional water storage we need, we might not be facing a zero allocation ... The Legislature must get a comprehensive water plan before the voters this year."

Whether or not the $25 billion tunnels are ever built, we will need more storage. Once the storage is complete, then some form of improved plumbing might make sense. But there is one thing the tunnels will do, and that's make it easier to send more water south -- whether there is a drought or not.

While it is in the interests of all Valley politicians to support building more storage, our interests and those of the south valley diverge pretty quickly after that.

In his news release Friday, Vidak called for the pumps "to be turned on now." But if they turn on the pumps, where will the water come from? Do they intend to suck the Delta dry? They can't do that and keep the federally protected endangered fish alive, so that would mean more water would have to be released from our reservoirs -- New Melones, Don Pedro and McClure. And if the fields farther south need yet more water? Well, whose interests would come first - the large corporate farmers of the South Valley or the much smaller, family farmers of the Northern San Joaquin?

We could, of course, capitalize on such an opportunity to sell our water under the guise that it's surplus. But that makes sense under only one condition - that those arranging such sales can promise us that the next year won't be just as dry.

Contact Mike Dunbar at mdunbar@modbee.com.