One of the skeptics who caught the state's Delta tunnels road show in Stockton on Tuesday was a farmer named John Armanino. He farms 250 acres of peat on Roberts Island.
Armanino said he raised "major issues" with the state people. He felt they didn't have answers. He suspected the hearings were a mere formality, the tunnels a done deal.
"I got to thinking, 'Why am I doing this if they're going to take my water away?' " Armanino asked.
He invited me to his farm. Roberts Island is one of those places that will be forever changed if the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan goes forward.
The state identifies the island as a "Restoration Opportunity Area," land that may be flooded as habitat for Delta species as a sort of apology to Mother Nature for building the tunnels.
The state's procrustean plan calls for a vast 100,000 acres to be inundated. A lot of Delta residents would be elbowed out.
When I came down the levee, Armanino drove in from far out in the fields. It was quiet. Snow geese squeaked far overhead. Nearby, tall eucalyptus trees rustled in a breeze.
Armanino pulled up, a 70-something man wearing a camo cap and peat-blackened denims.
When his father bought the land in the 1950s, Armanino was a boy of 7. Right over there, Armanino said, pointing nearby, his father cleared a cottonwood grove by hand.
"I had my own little ax, and I got to chop the tiny brush," Armanino remembered. "My mother and sisters would come out at noon with food, and we'd have a picnic."
When their water jug emptied, they'd hike over the levee and dip it into the San Joaquin River. Its water was that clean.
During the annual shad run, his dad would take him late at night with other men to net fish. An amazing spectacle. "It was like the river was moving," Armanino recalled. "They couldn't even pick the net up, there was so many shad in the net."
Crops grew naturally. Disc, seed, saturate the soil with clean water; corn would rise 4 feet high before more irrigation was needed.
But Friant Dam, starting in 1949, and the diversion of almost all water way upstream sabotaged the shad.
And salt rose in the river.
Salinity -- incurring from the sea should tunnels take the fresh water -- is what Armanino fears. Plants suck water by osmosis. Salt is key. Water travels from low salt to high salt, from soil up to salty root cells.
But when the soil is salty, the process slows, or even reverses; soil draws water from the root. Crops wilt and die.
"I told 'em, 'You can't take all the fresh water and leave all the salt,' " Armanino said. "It's going to make it harder to grow."
Armanino has other concerns. Stable earthworks require stable moisture, he said. Levees must not be saturated, but not dried out, either, by too much water export.
"My concern is they're drying out the levees. That in the winter time when the heavy water comes, the levees'll just suck it up." And rupture, catastrophically.
Another concern: "The people ought to give some thought to the mosquitoes. There's going to be a 100,000-acre swamp upwind."
When Armanino used the word "swamp," I suddenly saw the state's plan in whole new way. Up to that moment, I had been thinking of the water as habitat restoration.
"Swamp" evokes the natural history of this region, when mosquitoes were a biblical plague. Dense clouds of them tormented settlers.
And mosquitoes are vectors. In the early 1800s, they bit a visiting French Canadian trapper infected with malaria; within years, virtually all native people were dead.
Update malaria to dengue fever or valley fever or some other disease. The concern is that the swamp restoration brings a pestilence upon Stockton.
Addressing this in its environmental impact report, the state says the swamps would be far enough away from Stockton to be out of mosquito range.
But the sheer, unprecedented scale of the swampland they propose to create -- 100,000 acres, or 156 square miles -- makes accurate predictions seem unlikely.
On top of these concerns, Armanino chafed at the basic idea: that water from this region is to be exported to salty, semiarid deserts far to the south.
"It's power politics," he said. "We're right on the river, and they say we don't have rights. They're hundreds of miles away, and they have rights to the water?
"I think we're going to get taken."
Contact Michael Fitzgerald at firstname.lastname@example.org.