The Fish Sniffer - Map Reveals Tunnels Will Supply Water For Agribusiness, Fracking

Map Reveals Tunnels Will Supply Water For Agribusiness, Fracking

Written By: Dan Bacher, March 24, 2014

Much of the area that the oil industry could frack for oil and natural gas in California is located in and near toxic, drainage-impaired land farmed by corporate agribusiness interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, Restore the Delta and Food and Water Watch revealed on March 4.

The groups, opponents of Governor Jerry Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels, released a new map that shows that 35-mile long twin tunnels would mainly supply water to the largest agribusiness users of Delta water exports, land impaired by toxic selenium concentrations that make farming unsustainable, and the oil and gas basins where the energy industry could expand the environmentally destructive practice of fracking (hydraulic fracturing).

The map was released at a time when Governor Brown is fast-tracking the construction of the peripheral tunnels and backing the fracking of California. In September, Brown signed Senate Fran Pavley’s Senate Bill 4, legislation that anti-fracking opponents say gives the green light to fracking in California.

Before Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 4, Brown accepted at least $2.49 million in financial donations over the past several years from oil and natural gas interests, according to public records on file with the Secretary of State’s Office and the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta (RTD), told reporters in a teleconference the significance behind the map.

“This map shows a remarkable overlay of where our water is going, how the public subsidizes unsustainable crops on drainage-impaired lands, selenium concentrations that pose a threat to the public, and underlying oil deposits that could be fracked with water from the governor’s tunnels," she said. “Unsustainable farming has damaged these lands. And the taxpayers have been subsidizing it.”

“The fracking sites line up perfectly in the Valley with where the governor wants to export this water,” added Steve Hopcraft, a spokesman for Restore the Delta.

Barrigan-Parrilla said fracking is another “water intensive industry” in the San Joaquin Valley that will further contaminate groundwater supplies already impaired by selenium, nitrates, pesticides and other pollutants.

“The governor's plan describes water for fracking via the proposed peripheral tunnels as a beneficial use,” she stated, referring to the BDCP website. “Beneficial for whom?”

The map shows the largest agricultural users of water exported from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are irrigating land impaired by concentrations of selenium that will make farming increasingly unsustainable. These drainage-impaired lands sit on top of oil and gas basins that underlie the San Joaquin Valley.

“The $60 billion tunnel project will not benefit the SF-Bay Delta estuary, or its surrounding communities and urban areas. It will not benefit San Joaquin farming communities that do not have access to clean drinking water. And it will not benefit urban ratepayers within the Metropolitan Water District or the Santa Clara Water District, as they will pay for a disproportionate share of the tunnels project,” she stated.

She also said methods of energy extraction, including fracking and steam extraction, require “significant quantities of water and produce contaminated water” that would further render San Joaquin Valley groundwater basins unusable for farm community residents who already do not have access to clean drinking water.

The oil industry minimizes the amount of water used for fracking, contending that fracking uses relatively little water. The Western States Petroleum Association, the largest corporate lobby in Sacramento, also claims that fracking is safe and environmentally friendly.

“Hydraulic fracturing does not use large volumes of water, at least not in California,” claimed Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and former chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force to created so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California.

“All of the hydraulic fracturing that occurred last year used less than 300 acre feet of water, according to the California Department of Conservation. That’s about the same amount of water needed to keep two West Coast golf courses green,” said Reheis-Boyd, in her latest piece on the WSPA website, entitled, “Oil Production and the Drought: We Get It,” (

However, fracking and peripheral tunnels opponents point out that reporting of water used for fracking has been voluntary, so the California Department of Conservation’s figure is virtually meaningless.

Adam Scow, California Campaigns Director for Food and Water Watch, revealed that Kern County, where 70 percent of California's oil reserves are located, used 150,000 acre feet of water in 2008 alone. Most of this water comes from the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project that obtain their water from the Delta.

“When you consider that 8 barrels of water are used for every barrel of oil extracted, you could be getting into millions of acre feet used for fracking oil wells,” he noted.

Barrigan–Parrilla said that if 30,000 potential fracking sites were utilized, that could result in an additional 450,000 acre feet of water used, considering that each fracking operation uses 15 acre feet of water.

She also noted that the industry has used four times the amount of water that it has claimed it employs in Colorado and other states where fracking has been used to extract oil and natural gas.

Scow emphasized, “It's unfair for the Governor to make Californians subsidize water use and abuse by corporate agribusiness and oil companies, especially in a drought and in a bad economy."


Westlands and Kern County receive bulk of Delta water exports

In addition to showing the overlay of drainage impaired land and oil and gas basins in the San Joaquin Valley, the map also demonstrated that just two of the water export contractors, Westlands Water District and Kern County Water Agency, used a larger percentage of water, 55 percent, than the urban districts serving Los Angeles (Metropolitan Water District) and Santa Clara Valley (Santa Clara Valley Water District) combined, who used 45 percent.

“From 2000 to 2009, Westlands and Kern County Water Agency received an average 1,788,000 acre feet of exported water from the Delta, whereas Metropolitan Water District and the Santa Clara Valley Water District received on average 1,400,000 acre feet of exported water from the Delta,” she stated. “Total Delta exports for this period were 5.2 million-acre feet on average, with over 3 million acre-feet of water on average going to these agribusiness districts.“

During the 2010 State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) hearings, participating scientists from fishery agencies and NGOs reached consensus that the Delta needed additional flows for fisheries to be restored. Delta exports would need to be cut to 3 to 3.5 million acre-feet to achieve those additional needed flows.

Barrigan-Parrilla said the continuing irrigation of drainage impaired lands will set the stage for environmental disaster by imperiling wildlife and fish populations, including Central Valley salmon and steelhead and Delta fish populations.

“Selenium contamination from unsustainable farming in Westlands and Kern threatens farming in neighboring areas, water quality and wildlife, and a repeat of the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge disaster is possible,” Barrigan-Parrilla said. “The majority of lands with the highest selenium concentration fall within the boundaries of the Westlands Water District and the Kern County Water agency.”

The drainage-impaired lands within Westlands drain back into neighboring water districts, and then back into the San Joaquin River. This polluted water makes its way back down the San Joaquin River, draining into the South Delta, loading the Delta with additional salt concentrations and pollutants that are extremely harmful to fisheries, Barrigan-Parrilla observed.

The two organizations called upon Governor Brown to “change direction and instead of subsidizing unsustainable agriculture and fracking, invest in policies that create regional water independence.”

The Restore the Delta map can be viewed here:


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