Tag Archives: Delta

It’s Official: John Laird appointed California Secretary for Natural Resources

(We noted this pick last week; it is great to see it all official-like. – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

As one of his first actions, Governor-elect Jerry Brown has appointed the Honorable John Laird as California Secretary for Natural Resources. This is a superb decision. A longtime environmental champion, John Laird served with distinction for six years as an Assemblyman representing the central coast counties of Santa Cruz and Monterey. During this period, John received a 100% score from both the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) and Sierra Club California for his votes on environmental issues.

CLCV enthusiastically endorsed John when he ran for state office. We’re equally thrilled that he will continue to protect California’s natural, historical and cultural resources in this new role.

Laird has an impressive record of environmental leadership during his twenty-three years in elected office. While serving in the California Assembly, John distinguished himself as a leader both in the environmental community and with his colleagues on budget and environmental issues. Laird demonstrated both political sophistication and compassion in his efforts to protect and invest in California’s precious natural resources.

As noted in CLCV’s 2008 Environmental Scorecard, Laird was “the highest-ranking voice for the environment in the inner circle of leadership, the trusted and respected chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, and a dedicated friend and mentor to environmental advocates.” The 2008 Scorecard is available online: http://www.ecovote.org/scoreca…

As Budget Chair, Laird worked hard to reverse the persistent trend of the state’s under-funding of natural resources and environmental protection. One of his most significant achievements included allocating $250 million to the state budget to begin funding the $1 billion backlog in state parks deferred maintenance, providing for $19 million to protect and manage California’s ocean resources and augmenting the Department of Fish and Game’s funding by over $70 million.

California’s enormous budget deficit will create severe challenges for the managers of our natural resources. The Secretary will be required to make tough choices that balance the need to protect the environment with fewer dollars. We look forward to working with John Laird to face these challenges.

Delta Environmental Review Kicks into Gear

In this situation, I can’t really blame Jim Costa, he’s under immense pressure from his constituents to get more water to the Valley.  Yet, that doesn’t make this any less morally or scientifically wrong:

Once the meeting began, Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno got the first opportunity to speak as a witness before the panel. Costa, a conservative Democrat, told the panel the fish protections have harmed his constituents and are based on “flawed science.”

“The social and economic devastation has been real, and awful,” Costa said.(SacBee)

The economic devestation predates the current drought by well over twenty years.  The Central Valley has been economically devestated for years.  The fact is that what was built in the Central Valley was always unsustainable. We can only pump so much groundwater, build so much storage, and divert so much water from the Delta before we have to look at what we are doing there.  For most of recent geologic history, the Central Valley was a near desert, becoming arable in big rain years only.  Yet, we built

This is not to say that the land cannot be used productively.  It’s just that we need to thoroughly examine what is being grown where and attempt to create a land management system that allows farmers and labor in the Central Valley to thrive without destroying the environment at the same time.  This is possible, and in theory, it is part of the task of the Delta environmental review that kicked off yesterday.

Now, given how the water legislation came about, wildlife advocates and other environmentalists have a reason to be skeptical. But, the review will be worth keeping an eye on as it proceeds further.

No Exceptions to the Endangered Species Act

It was a compelling scene: Rep Dennis Cardoza and Rep. Devin Nunes brought in a bowl of 3″ long smelt and pictures of unemployed farm workers and their families to a House Natural Resources Committee meeting.  They were hoping to provide an effective contrast and convince their colleagues to make an emergency exemption to the Endangered Species Act.

The state is in the third year of a drought and it has gotten so bad that in order to protect a federally endangered species a federal judge in 2007 ordered the state and feds to cut down on the amount of water pumped through the delta to save the smelt.

This is not simply about a species of little fish.  The smelt, as Kevin Freking at the AP writes “a bellwether for the health of the delta, the heart of California’s water-delivery system.”  More from the article:

With that, he offered to submit a fishbowl filled with nine minnows for the Congressional Record. The fish were rainbow smelt, not the endangered delta smelt, which are illegal to possess without a permit.

Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Norwalk, responded by asking him to take the plastic wrap off the bowl so the fish could get some air, which Nunes did. Napolitano served as chairwoman for Tuesday’s hearing.

I can’t just picture that scene in my head. Can’t you?

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, said some of the lawmakers were “cherry picking history” and ignoring that water has been pumped into the valley at rates that exceeded what was appropriate.

That’s one of the reasons the judge ordered state and federal wildlife agencies to revise how much water should be pumped out of the delta. Most of the pumping occurs from late spring through summer.

“The judge had no choice because the system was run right down to the margins where in fact he did kick in the protections of the Endangered Species Act,” Miller said.

We have lacked a sensible water plan for decades.  To allow more pumping risks devastating the entire ecosystem.  It is not about just a couple of little fish in a bowl.

The farm workers are devastated right now with the cutbacks to water supplies, but we need long term solutions, not short term actions that cause irreconcilable harm.

“A Water Grab Disguised As A Drought”

As someone who has written before of the water problems our state faces, and who has repeated the “omg worst drought ever” frame, it’s important that I give some necessary attention to Michael Fitzgerald of The Stockton Record, who called bullshit on the whole thing today:

California’s “drought” is overblown. The alarmists calling it a historic disaster are trying to pull a fast one….

Besides, state officials, SoCal water importers and other Chicken Littles don’t mention they drained Northern California reservoirs prior to February’s storms.

“In the first year of the drought, we passed water like a drunken sailor,” said Bill Jennings, head of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

Some perspective: In the 1990s, the state and feds exported 4 million acre-feet of Delta water annually. In this decade – and well into the drought – officials imprudently powered up exports to more than 6 million acre-feet a year.

They irresponsibly sucked reservoirs down. They nearly killed the Delta. They stopped only when a federal judge called a halt.

“We cannibalized Northern California to sock it away in the Kern water bank and Diamond Valley water bank down south,” Jennings said, “giving no thought to the question of a second or third year.”

In short, those who have the weakest water rights claims – such as sprawling Southern California exurbs – have been recklessly drawing down our water supplies to support a totally unsustainable  use of the land. We’ve had intimations that this is going on, with the collapse of Delta fisheries and the West Coast salmon population. But the media often reported this as an unfortunate consequence of mandated water deliveries from the Delta, through the pumps at Tracy and down the delivery chain that the drought (and everyone agrees we’re in some sort of drought) has exacerbated.

Funny thing about those “mandated water deliveries” though:

The 80-year average for Delta water is 29 million acre-feet annually. The state and feds wrote contracts promising 130 million acre-feet: 41/2 times reality.

Other contracts bring total export contracts to an insane 245 million acre-feet, an ocean of paper water promised to people who gauged their farms, businesses or urban water consumption accordingly.

In other words California water policy has been built on debt, just as I’ve been arguing. To water the suburban sprawlconomy and the agricultural sprawl necessary to feed that sprawlconomy, we created a kind of “water bubble”, where contracts to deliver water were written without regard to mother nature’s ability to pay. This almost exactly parallels what went on in banks during the housing bubble.

And like the collapse of the housing bubble, those who engineered the water bubble are saying the answer is to spend more public money on bailing them out – in this case through more canals and dams.

Don’t get me wrong, California does face water problems and does need to change how we use water here. But the answer isn’t to waste more water on sprawl. Instead it’s time we got serious about providing water security by reducing how much we use, retrofitting urban areas to do more recycling, and implementing more water-friendly and environmentally sensible farming practices across the state.