Yesterday, the Democrats in both houses laid out their plans for we manage one of the most critical issues in the state in the era of climate change: the San Joaquin Valley/Sacramento delta water issues. Rather than focusing on specific projects, Sen. Lois Wolk and others are looking to build a structure that can be a trusted arbiter as we look to divide what little water we have to a slew of purposes.
The legislation, which is to be fleshed out in a conference committee when lawmakers return to Sacramento later this month, does not specifically authorize any projects. Rather, it creates the Delta Stewardship Council, which would have the authority to pursue delta restoration work and a “water conveyance facility.”
Four of the council’s seven members would be appointed by the governor and two by the Legislature. The seventh would be the chair of the Delta Protection Commission.
The bills call for water conservation and delta protections. They would also set in motion a potentially explosive examination of water rights in the delta watershed.
“Neither the delta ecosystem nor the state’s water needs have been well served by decades of benign neglect,” said Silicon Valley Sen. Joe Simitian, author of one of five bills in the package and chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. “The system of governance is broken and the system of conveyance is broken.” (LA Times 8/6/09)
How critical is this issue? Well, let’s start with what we know:
• The Valley floor is sinking. Because we have taken too much water from the groundwater supply, the San Joaquin Valley has actually fallen several feet in some areas. The picture to the right is from Mendota back in 1977. It has gotten worse since. The USGS performed a study on subsidence back in 1999 showing some really bad side effects other than just the lowering valley floor. After the floor falls, the aquifer permanently loses storage capacity, making the provisioning of water to crops even more difficult.
• Crops are dying in the fields. In some places, farmers are simply leaving their feilds fallow as there is not enough water to bring them to maturity. However, where you have longstanding crops, like fruit trees, the consequences of a couple really bad water years last much longer.
• Endangered species are being slowly killed off in the Delta. The Delta was once home to a number of species found nowhere else. However, as we have increasingly relied on pumping, we have not only killed many of them as they went through our pumps, we have also changed the salinity of the Delta, creating a slight, but important, change in the environment.
• The decreasing water flows to our creeks and rivers threatens our fisheries.
• Climate change will bring increased flooding and droughts.
• Apparently people need water to survive in cities.
These are, of course, only a few of the problems that we are facing with respect to water. And as it stands, there are a lot of parties involved, federal, state, and municipal water districts. And the chain of command is rather sketchy. Few are looking at the region as a whole rather than just their little portion. If this package of bills gets through, at least that will change.
But one thing that should be made clear to every Californian is that water is prescious. We should not waste a single drop. Despite the fact that consumer usage accounts for only around 20% of overall usage, we need to ensure that we aren’t using more than we absolutely need. While water is a fundamental right of living, and should be kept cheap, we should understand just how much value it truly has. One of the bills in this package, AB 49 would require 20% conservation from all users. This is a laudable goal as we move forward into a changing climate.
The package of bills isn’t a complete solution for all of our water woes, but it is a good step in the right direction, especially for the Delta. However, we cannot sit back and just figure the Legislature is on this. Sure, they are working on the issue, but we need to keep up pressure on our leaders to enact sensible comprehensive legislation that deals with how California thrives in a changing climate in the 21st Century.
You can check out the full package at the Senate’s atrocious website. (Seriously Senate people, this is supposed to be California, the innovation state. Can’t we get a website from this century?)