This time, will we end the water war over the Delta?

In the grand Western tradition of fistfights down at the water hole, no fight has quite rivaled the one over the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

In 1860, the delta – which is actually an estuary – was a marshy, half-million-acre expanse filled primarily with tules. It saw a constant ebb and flow between saltwater pushing in from San Francisco Bay and fresh water flowing in from the Sacramento, San Joaquin and Mokelumne rivers. An entire suite of fish, from iconic California species like salmon and steelhead to less sexy understudies like the delta smelt, evolved to thrive in that dynamic system.

Today, though, after 150 years of spirited remodeling, the delta hardly looks like a tide-flooded estuary. It has been transformed into a tangle of waterways and of farms and towns that stand on levee-protected islands like walled fortresses. And today, the delta serves – above all else – as a supersize water hole for millions of farmers and urbanites who live as far south as San Diego.

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Time to get real about water

California’s wet winter was a pleasant surprise after three years of drought. Yet most Californians will be surprised to know that, despite the heavy rain and snowfall, our state still is not able to meet all of our water needs.

How is this possible?

Population growth, environmental protections and other issues have resulted in our water needs outstripping available supplies. Despite the healthy winter, the state is still suffering from the effects of three years of drought.

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Recycled water systems ripple out in Bay Area

The “whoosh” of the toilet at the new Rite Aid in north San Rafael sounds like any other.

But there’s one big difference. Unlike just about every other commode around California and the United States, it doesn’t use drinking-quality water.

Rather, the water swirling in this basin is recycled – highly treated wastewater from the Marin Municipal Water District’s Las Gallinas plant 2 miles away. Cleaned to what water quality manager Bob Castle calls “swimming pool” standards, the water, instead of flowing into the bay, is carried through separate pipes to restroom stalls in the drugstore – the 22nd “dual-plumbed” building in Marin County, the most in the state behind Irvine.

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