[env-trinity] San Francisco Chronicle Editorial July 17.2005

Byron bwl3 at comcast.net
Mon Jul 18 14:30:43 PDT 2005


Delta Blues

San Francisco Chronicle - 7/17/05


The news last week that the Bush administration changed scientists'
conclusions about how increased water pumping from the Delta would affect
endangered salmon and steelhead was disturbing, but not surprising. The Bush
administration has a history of allowing political considerations to trump
science. In the history of the Delta, politics rules, too. 


What most Californians know of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is its
landscape -- a mysterious backwater of waving reeds, waterfowl and asparagus
fields -- and its place in state politics as the battlefield for the state's
water wars. Remember Gov. Jerry Brown's fight to push through the Peripheral


The courts will have to sort out the legitimacy of 280 long-term federal
water contracts with agricultural users for 1 million acre feet more than
the water project can deliver safely. 


What is less clear is who will sort out the future of the Delta. 


The stakeholders -- industry, water agencies, state and federal governments
and the environmental community -- agree on this much: The status quo is


"Reliance on the Delta as a primary water feature of the state is doomed,"
said Jeffrey Mount, a UC Davis geologist who has studied the Delta and its


With the demand for water increasing and the Delta's 100-year-old plumbing
system in disrepair, the stakes are enormous. An earthquake, a flood or a
levee failure that undermines other levees, would be a human and economic
disaster the state could ill afford. 


The stakeholders have embraced the fact that California must rethink how to
maintain and deliver good-quality water to two-thirds of the state's
population. Each group is cautiously starting to roll out proposals for a
new water world that attempt to avoid the buzz saw of the old water politics
and secure a sustainable future. 


The Association of California Water Agencies, a consortium representing 95
percent of the state's water authorities, has unveiled its blueprint for
California water, "No Time to Waste" (www.acwa.com). 


Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, has introduced AB1200, legislation
backed by the Sierra Club and a Silicon Valley industry group, which calls
for a comprehensive but vaguely defined study of the impacts of climate
change and earthquake risk on the Delta levees, lands, water rights, fish
and the environment of the rivers outside the Delta. 


The state Department of Water Resources is preparing a similar, but more
Delta-centric, report on the risks to the levee system and to the state

What can't happen is nothing. Politics can't impede taking action. 


The Delta ecosystem is failing. State biologists have acknowledged that the
Delta's open-water fish populations are mysteriously collapsing. Scientists
don't know why the populations of Delta smelt, threadfin shad and juvenile
striped bass, as well as copepods, a tiny organism on which larger fish
feed, have declined to the lowest levels recorded. They are investigating
three possibilities: pesticides, invasive species and increased water


CalFed, the decade-old state-federal collaboration designed to reconcile the
thorniest of the Delta conflicts over water supply and the environment, has
faltered, too. "For all the dollars spent by CalFed, there is little to show
for it," says state Sen. Michael J. Machado, D-Linden. 


Forging a path to the future will take leadership. We need our leaders to
tell the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation that
they can't ignore environmental law when renewing lucrative 25- and 40-year
federal contracts for subsidized California water. 


It will take leadership to shift the political debate from water delivery to
water quality, and that means water quality for people, for the fisheries,
for cities and industry, and for agriculture and the environment. 


It will take also leadership to convince the stakeholders to look at the
benefits of the Delta collectively and share in the cost of maintaining the
Delta's plumbing system collectively. 


And it will take leadership to engineer a plan that protects the well- being
of all California, not just the political interests of a few. 


If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants, as he has said, to leave a legacy as
the environmental governor, this is the issue and this is the time. 


A troubled landscape 


The Delta is the largest estuary on the West Coast. It is also a rich
agricultural region, a recreational area and the plumbing for the state
water system that serves 23 million Californians. Aging infrastructure,
increased water demands and warming temperatures are changing the Delta in
ways that will affect the quality and the delivery of water in the future. 


Crumbling levees: There are 1,600 miles of levees in the Delta, most of
which are privately owned. Some date back to the 1850s. The land they
surround is subsiding, potentially destabilizing the levees. Failure of one
levee could jeopardize the integrity of others. 


Climate change: Warming temperatures are raising ocean levels and pushing
salty water further into the Delta. The state Department of Water Resources
estimates that to reduce saltiness and prevent flooding, it will require
raising the height of some 1,100 miles of levees at least 6 inches or more.
A warmer climate also could diminish the Sierra snowpack -- California's
natural water-storage system -- and increase runoff in winter, when there's
little storage capacity. The resulting floods could undermine levees and
harm water quality. 


Disruption: UC Davis geologist Jeffrey Mount predicts a 2 in 3 chance within
the next 50 years of a catastrophic event -- an earthquake or a major flood
-- that would curtail or prevent the delivery of water, maybe for months,
with disastrous consequences for the California economy. 


Sources: UC Davis; Association of California Water Agencies; State
Department of Water Resources 


Byron Leydecker, 

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

Consultant, California Trout, Inc.

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 ph

415 383 9562 fx

bwl3 at comcast.net

bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org (secondary)





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