Saturday, September 12, 2009

Not a victory, but not a catastrophe, either

© 2009 Joshua Stark

The Delta water bills the State of California did not pass yesterday (or this morning).

I am relieved at this. The environmental community is torn over this issue, with normally-allied groups taking different sides. But, it is a controversial issue, and a big issue.
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For those of you lucky enough to be out of the loop, let me sum it up: The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is in Northern California, just East of San Francisco Bay. The entire Sierra Nevada's West slope, in addition to much of the Trinity Alps and some of the Cascades, drains into the Delta. It provides water for 25-30 million Californians on any given day, in addition to watering the richest agricultural zone in the country, as well as the largest metropolitan area in the country, both of which hundreds of miles away.

To sum up the history of California's water issues, I'll quote Mark Twain: Whiskey is for drinkin', and water is for fighting over. That's how long this has lasted.

In recent years, some have advocated for a new canal to be built around the Delta, because of problems associated with water pollution, salinity, and old levees in the Delta. Recently (coinciding with a nearly 80% increase in pumping to the South in 2001), the Delta ecosystem has almost completely collapsed.

The new canal would avoid these problems for water users in the South by diverting clean Northern California water around the Delta. Can you see the problems a Delta-born River Rat like me might have with a canal? We need fresh water to deal with all the pollution problems Central California sends our way from their rivers, in addition to supporting our own ecosystem and agriculture.

Proponents of a canal believe that, so long as it is "eco-friendly", a canal is the only way to go. The real problem, however, is that too much water is dedicated for places other than the Delta. It needs a certain amount of fresh water, and it doesn't get it. My counter to folks who claim there can be an eco-friendly canal is to ask them to support a dam with similar impacts and costs; but, none in the environmental community will support anything called a dam. I respond, then do not support any canal that equates to a dam in its impacts (downstream flow, construction, land & energy used, etc.). If I had the money, I'd buy billboard space to make this claim.

I hear from canal-proponents that if we don't do something, the Delta will collapse, and people will also not get the water they need. I contend that we are doing something, we are carrying out the Endangered Species Act, and stopping pumping during critical times of the year. As a response to other regulatory actions, people have been forced to better conserve water (Look at the aftermath of Mono Lake), and these results should be no different.

There are many political machinations at work on these water deals, the worst an attempt to give decision-making authority to pro-canal forces through a tiny group of appointees (seven) who would get to decide water policy for upwards of 30 million of us, and millions of acres of habitat and ag. land. But before I, or other voices from the Delta, will give one more acre-inch of water, we want to see everybody doing all they can to conserve our water.

For starters, the city of Fresno can cut its water consumption from 280 gallons per person per day (the US average is around 100).

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