CB’s Green Report: Restore The Delta Says Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Water Challenges Can Be Solved


This week the American Rivers released its America’s Most Endangered Rivers reports and lists the Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta in California, which nearly 25 million Californians depend on for drinking water, in the number one spot. Thousands of farmers as well as the commercial and recreational fishing industries also depend on California’s single most important natural resource, according to the report.

American Rivers claims that this Delta is in bad shape because of the “outdated water supply and flood management systems have put at risk the ecosystem and thousands of Californian families and businesses that depend upon it.” The report also cites years of mismanagement, neglect and conflict as part of the Delta’s problem.

To save the natural resource, the report said that the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other water users must develop a workable, sustainable plan “to restore the ecosystem, secure water supplies and reduce the risk of floods.”

Many would call this water issue in the Central Valley of California a challenge. Others say there is an impossible fight being waged over the Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta. Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, the Campaign Director of Restore the Delta, sums up the entire situation by saying: “It’s the day of reckoning.”

At first glance, her statement may sound harsh. However, Barrigan-Parrilla explains that the major problem for the Delta is that the state water resources control board over the years has implemented water projects through the years, which move water in California from north to south, that granted water rights at about 8 1/2 times the total amount of water available – and that’s in a wet year.

“The way water rights have been distributed in California, and who has truthful access, is basically the equivalent of a ponzi scheme,” says Barrigan-Parrilla. “And that is the number one problem.”

With so little water available, there is no wonder people are fighting over it. And then, the situation gets even more complicated with increased pressures from population growth, water contamination due to farming practices, climate change and drought conditions (which are debatable according to Restore the Delta and Michael Fitzgerald of RecordNet.com.)

The fight for water comes from many concerned and effected parties in the Delta and beyond. And this is where Barrigan-Parrilla’s organization has gotten involved. According to Restore the Delta, their two and a half year old organization is attempting to work with all the groups – Delta residents, business leaders, civic organizations, community group, faith-based communities, union locals, farmers, fishermen and environmentalists – “to make the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta fishable, swimmable, drinkable, and farmable” for California. The group with more than 2,500 supporters also “seeks to strengthen the health of the estuary” and the Delta communities as well as “improve water quality so that fisheries and farming can thrive together again in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.” Given the situation, their goals sound not only incompatible but also somewhat impossible.

For Barrigan-Parrilla, the state of the Delta is in really bad shape due the wrongful allocation of water resources, which have caused water exports to other parts of the state (like Southern California which gets approximately 16-20 percent). However, Restore the Delta claims that 80 percent of the water goes to the west side of the San Joaquin valley or Kern County water bank for agribusiness.

And to complicate the matters further, the agricultural industry in this particular area, had limited (junior) water rights granted to them back in the 1950-1960s.  As Barrigan-Parrilla explains, the original agreement was that they were only going to have water in the wettest periods.

“And now the cry is that the state is going to lose so much in terms of the economy if they don’t have the water every year,” said Restore the Delta’s Campaign Director, “Their lives have been based around a false economy.”

According to her, the state has pumped so much water out of the delta that there are now imperiled species like the salmon and Delta smelt.

“I just received information that they will be closing the salmon season today for the second year in a row because of the water that was pumped out three or four years ago,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “The salmon never made it out and are not coming back.”

And even with endangered species, groups are still looking for ways to appropriate and pump more water out of the Delta, she said. In an average year, the pumps export more than

6 million acre-feet of water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins through the Delta (American Rivers).

The battle over the water is a battle to save the different economies — farming and agribusiness or fishing (commercial and recreational) and tourism. Restore the Delta estimates (using Public Policy Institute of California numbers as a baseline) that with extreme water shortages, the agribusiness in the San Joaquin Valley stands to lose approximately $2.5 billion.  However, these financial losses would be felt by only a couple of people because the mega-farms are in the hands of a few. (Of course, thousands of farm workers would lose their jobs as well.) And California produce would suffer.

Now, on the other side, Restore the Delta estimates that in addition to losing the estuary and precious ecosystem by continuing to pump water out of the Delta, the recreational, commercial fishing and boating industries would stand to lose between $1.5 billion a year. The loss of these industries means entire Delta towns and communities would be in jeopardy.

To solve the water resources issue in the Delta and save the ecosystem, Restore the Delta suggests the following major items. First of all, water exports need to be reduced in favor of regional water self-sufficiency. Secondly, RTD calls for the fixing the levies, which would insure a a water supplies for the urban areas that depend on it. Thirdly, there needs to be a governance fixed, and a conservancy should be created that gets the Delta locals (in all five counties) at the table. Fourthly, the historic flood plains need to be restored in the Central Valley. RTD thinks this method would capture half a billion acre feet of potential ground water storage. The water could be captured (and pumped back up through solar power) and used to supply the rest of the state of California without depleting the Delta. And finally, the organization is staunchly opposed to the canal because it will cause salting and kill off the fish in the Delta freshwaters.

With two-thirds of Californians depending on the Delta for their drinking water and thousands of others for their jobs, it seems like the time is now for the various organizations, federal agencies and environmentalists to work together for joint water resource solution that is sustainable and environmentally friendly.

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Prior appropriations laws were established to draw mining and agriculture businesses to the west. These laws were new and unprecedented. The prior appropriation laws legally secured heavy cheap fresh water flows to industry and agriculture in those days of the mid 1800′s. The adverse consequences to the river systems resulting from these prior appropriation laws were less important, in those days, than the need to make available massive amounts of fresh cheap water available so as to encourage the population of the west. This was a divine directive, as you may know, for humans to populate the earth. The west was pretty in those days of the mid 1800′s, but it needed people. prior appropriations water laws was how we got them here. Now that the people are here, prior appropriation rights are to be terminated and are hereby inversely condemned. Prior appropriation rights are obsolete now that the west is populated. The ruin from prior appropriation laws has gone far enough, almost too far. Riparian rights are laws such as for example: ‘Upstream owners of riparian land shall not impede river flows across their land so as to create any adverse downstream effect’. These laws have protected rivers from ruination since ancient days, and termination of prior appropriations laws will automatically reinstate laws of riparian use. No fresh waters can be transferred, sold banked etc. under riparian rights laws unless the area of origin is experiencing a true surplus. Fed AG to promptly and efficiently file and serve direct condemnation for public use actions against owners of any and all historic floodplain and bottom land properties. Condemnation jury findings as to the money to be paid to swamp land owners will be paid using money freed up from stopping payments to IDF and will be paid by money freed up as the need has been reduced for expensive world war preparations as a result of diplomatic actions of USA president and others. All dams and levees are to be condemned and obliterated immediately. Dam and levee condemnation actions are to be filed immediately, before all the fish are dead, and before all fresh water has been ruined or appropriated away, with USA to seek federal court orders as to each dam and levee granting immediate possession to USA to commence with dam and levee obliteration.
Thank you;
Dr. Hamid
Water Lawyer
University of Wyoming College of Law, class of 1972

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