www.bilingualweekly.com | By Deanna Lynn Wulff
(bw news) STOCKTON, CA – Stockton is ground zero for the nation’s biggest and most troubling water war – nearly 25 million Californians get their water from the Delta, which surrounds the city in an intricate pattern of rivers, farms and levees. But the Delta faces multifaceted environmental and political problems, which have led to the decline of fisheries, wildlife and water quality, and special interests are directing the dialogue away from resolution and restoration.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Lloyd G. Carter, former Fresno Bee reporter and President of the Save Our Streams Council. “I have watched this for 30 years. They’ve been searching for a solution to the Delta’s problems for decades. It’s what I call the phenomena of endless studies no results. We know what we have to do. Put water back into the Delta.”
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) has spent more than $100 million advocating some form of peripheral canal or tunnel conveyance system, which would route water around the Delta rather than restoring it. In reaction, Stockton’s Restore the Delta, an environmental group, is teaming up with the founder of the nation’s largest construction company, A.G. Spanos to sustain Delta water rights. “The Spanos company understands what’s at stake for water quality and quantity for the region,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, the Campaign Director for Restore the Delta. “We are against the outside threat to take water away. Our business, farmers and environmental community are all on the same page.”
On the federal level, legislators are pushing Bill House Resolution (H.R.) 1837, which proposes to take water away from Delta wildlife and give it to state water contractors. The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) also recently voted to spend $1.75 million to study a new reservoir in Colusa County.
But none of these projects directly address flow requirements for salmon and other Delta endangered species. According to a SWRCB report, to restore habitat and water quality, southern Delta pumping will have to be reduced approximately 50 to 75 percent and Delta inflow will have to increase. Ultimately, that means most Californians will have to reduce water use.
And that’s because the two main Delta waterways, the San Joaquin River and the Sacramento River, are heavily diverted. For example, San Francisco draws water from the Tuolumne River, a tributary to the San Joaquin River, and Los Angeles draws water from the Feather River, a tributary to the Sacramento River. Both rivers are drained by irrigation districts and agriculture. In addition, levees disrupt natural water distribution, and pumping in the south Delta kills thousands of fish and creates a north to south flow across an estuary, which is tidal and should have an east to west flow.
“We have a system that is deteriorating in many ways, and an abundance of prolonged and often circular arguments. This is not sustainable,” said Dr. Jay Lund, Director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. “We need more effective and better organized leadership.”
According to Dr. Robert Pyke, a civil engineer and an expert on earthquake preparedness for levees, one of the cheapest ways to preserve the Delta’s human communities is to reinforce about half of the Delta levees. “The cost of making them seismically resistant is inexpensive, compared to that of building a tunnel or conveyance system around the Delta,” Pyke said. He estimates reinforcement will cost $1-2 billion, while costs for a canal or conveyance system are estimated to be near $15 billion.
For ecosystem restoration, one of the cheapest ways to increase Delta flows is through conservation, a concept not entirely ignored. Long Beach achieved a 17 percent reduction in per capita water use with a $250,000 a year advertising program urging people to save water, and a California Senate Bill enacted in 2009, set an overall goal of reducing urban water use by 20 percent by December 31, 2020.
However, the bill set no conservation goals for agriculture, and agriculture accounts for approximately 75 percent of all human water use in California. Of that, 60 percent is used for irrigation of field crops such as alfalfa, corn, rice and cotton, which generate only 14 percent of crop revenues. However, conservation for agriculture requires changing to crops that use less water or fallowing farmland. Both of which can reduce farm profits, said Dr. Ellen Hanak, Senior Policy Fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.
Some farmers have shifted to almonds, a high value crop that benefits from drip irrigation. “I went from fruit to nuts,” said Jim McLeod, a San Joaquin farmer who sits on Banta-Carbona Irrigation District board of directors. “You ask those people what they mean by restore,” McLeod said. “Restore means put farmers out of business.” California now has 810,000 acres planted in almonds and produces 80 percent of the world’s supply.
But almonds require a consistent supply of water, and some larger farms including those in the Westlands Water District have an inconsistent water supply. “They gambled and planted permanent crops on an erratic water supply. They made a poor business decision,” said John Bass, associate professor at the University of British Columbia School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. “And now they want to change state and federal law.”
By 2012, the Delta Stewardship Council is mandated to produce a plan with co-equal goals of a reliable water supply and ecosystem restoration, but its recommendations currently do not establish conservation rules beyond the existing 2020 state law. However, its fifth draft states, “It is clear that additional targets for urban conservation and agricultural water use efficiency will be necessary, but these will be addressed in future updates to the Delta Plan.”
- Delta Farmers Excluded from CA Water Discussions (indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com)
- Is a delta made from area of land drained by a river (wiki.answers.com)
- Farms and Salmon Summit April 27 in Antioch (indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com)