The continuing fight for Sacramento Delta water

1,300 miles of ancient, earthen levees protect and encircle the Sacramento Delta.  Some say this leaves the area, and its crucial water supply vulnerable to an earthquake. Others opine that the levees are sturdy enough. That something seemingly as simple as agreement over the safety of levees can’t be reached is a telling indication of how politically contentious the Delta is. It’s been this way for decades too.

It’s all about the water, and who will control it and where will it go. Delta residents and environmentalists have somewhat overlapping interests. They want most of the water to stay in the Delta so the wildlife, fish, and birds will be protected and the area remains a natural resource. In opposition to them, but hardly allies, are farming interests in the Central Valley and the Los Angeles / San Diego water-devouring monsters to the South.  Everyone wants that water, and more than a few of the players are politically connected with major financial resources. Add to that a multiplicity of federal, state, and local agencies with regulatory power over the Delta and you get a rather complicated game indeed, and one which is played using brass knuckles. The politics of water in California has always been a barely disguised street fight.

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California’s Delta Water Blues

“Complaints are everywhere heard that the public good is disregarded in the conflict of rival parties.”
— James Madison, The Federalist, No. 10

Gilbert Cosio stands with his feet spread, one foot higher than the other, astride a sloping, 100-year-old levee surrounding Bouldin Island, 40 miles due south of Sacramento, Calif. We’re here to take a look at improvements that Cosio, a civil engineer, has made to this levee, part of a serpentine network of flood control infrastructure that was imposed piecemeal over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries on the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The levee was originally made from dirt that Chinese “coolies” dredged from the swamp to carve out cheap farmland for California’s new white settlers. Today, it and the hundreds of Delta levees like it must do more: They must — as they’ve been doing since the 1850s — keep the water out of the farms, many of which have fallen below sea level because of soil subsidence. But they must also keep San Francisco Bay, contiguous to the Delta’s western edge, from flowing into the Delta. The miles of levees surrounding Delta land also confine the estuary itself, creating a quasi-natural reservoir for freshwater that’s pumped to 28 million people and billions of dollars of croplands, from Silicon Valley to San Diego. And the levees don’t just protect farms and the estuary; they keep cities and suburbs and crucial infrastructure dry.

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Bay Delta conservation plan loses support

On the heels of the withdrawal of support for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan by Westlands Water District, the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority has voted to suspend continued funding for the plan. 

The authority, which serves 29 member agencies throughout the Bay-Delta, and other public water agencies that rely on water supplies pumped through the Delta, have invested almost $150 million and more than four years toward the plan’s development. It’s estimated it will cost another $100 million to complete the plan, according to the authority. 

According to the agencies, federal regulations have reduced California’s public water supplies by more than a third in the past three years and now the Department of the Interior is proposing even more regulatory restrictions.

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California looks for a way to save the delta, quench residents’ thirst

Nearly three decades after a proposed delta bypass was killed by voters in a divisive initiative battle, the idea is back in vogue.

Pumping water from the delta’s southern edge has helped shove the West Coast’s largest estuary into ecological free fall, devastating its native fish populations and triggering endangered species protections that have tightened the spigot to San Joaquin Valley farms and Southern California cities.

The mounting delta problems, along with the potential threats of a rise in sea level and a major earthquake, have turned the attention of state and federal agencies to an “alternative conveyance”: either a canal or, more likely, a 40-mile water tunnel system that would be the nation’s longest, some 150 feet beneath the delta.

Read more: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2010/11/29/1387624/california-looks-for-a-way-to.html#ixzz16h8ZZgEK

Viewpoints: Peripheral Canal can aid fish habitat

By John McCamman

In 1965 the director of the Department of Fish and Game, Walter T. Shannon, presented his annual report to the Fish and Game Commission. In that report, he noted the “significant accomplishment” of selecting the peripheral canal “as the best method of transporting water from the north to the south across the Delta.

This conclusion was the product of the “Delta Fish and Wildlife Protection Study,” a joint federal-state project that evaluated alternatives to enhance wildlife protections in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. In fact, that report concludes that the peripheral canal is “the only opportunity to both protect and enhance these resources.”

There has been no change in that position, or in the relative benefits of the peripheral canal when compared to other options for the export of water since that time.

If the state and federal governments continue to export water from the Delta, the fishery agencies’ obligation is to ensure that those exports will do the least damage, and may provide an opportunity to conserve and enhance natural communities, including the fish, wildlife and habitat that are a part of those communities.

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/2010/11/21/3199366/viewpoints-peripheral-canal-can.html#ixzz169gus7kw

More Work Needed for Bay-Delta Conservation Plan

NOVATO, Calif., Nov. 19, 2010 /PRNewswire/ — Yesterday, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) Steering Committee received a document describing results of four years of work to develop a comprehensive habitat conservation plan to protect and recover endangered species and provide for a reliable water supply from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  

The Bay Institute, which as a member of the Steering Committee advocated for transparent development of a plan based on science, expressed disappointment with the progress to date and the content of the document. 

While The Bay Institute believes that the BDCP has made substantial progress, the document received yesterday does not accurately reflect that progress as many sections describe plan elements that are not agreed to by Steering Committee members. Said The Bay Institute’s Executive Director and Chief Scientist, Dr. Christina Swanson, “Every chapter of this so-called ‘draft plan’ is prefaced by lengthy caveats and disclaimers, but even those can’t gloss over the very serious, systemic flaws with the document and its development to date. Development of a plan that will withstand scientific and regulatory review will require significant additional work.”

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http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/more-work-needed-for-bay-delta-conservation-plan-109237724.html

REGION: Inland leaders explore remedies for uncertain water supplies

Twenty-eight years ago, Northern California voters killed a bond issue that would have paid for a canal to carry water from the big rivers in the north to fast-growing Southern California.

The Peripheral Canal, as it was called, is still being debated, and now officials are talking instead about building tunnels to carry the water more than 40 miles underground at a cost that could top $14 billion. The tunnels would carry supplies under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the pumps that feed the California Aqueduct.

The Delta may be hundreds of miles from Inland water taps, but its aging levees, declining fish populations and water pumping limitations have Southern California water purveyors again looking for a big fix.

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