His comments were right on the money.
When looking at the decline of the health of the Delta ecosystem in the context of the list of stressors being discussed by many, including the Delta Stewardship Council, a commonsense analysis shows that the Delta, from 50 to 100 years ago, had freshwater inflows and outflows mimicking a more natural flow regime.
The Delta of the past 100 years looked much like the Delta of today in terms of agriculture and maritime commerce. Channels were routinely dredged as a means of accommodating increased maritime commerce, reducing river stages in flood times, and were the source of materials for levee maintenance.
The levees of the past, many of which still exist today, now are maintained to a higher standard.
Tides, for all intents and purposes, are not a stressor that has somehow changed the landscape of the healthy Delta of the past.
Previous to highly-regulated wastewater treatment and urban storm water systems, industries of the past — like tomato processing canneries and textile plants — discharged freely into the Delta. Today, treatment of point-source discharges is the rule.
Lastly, irrigation in the Delta has been, and continues to be, a prevalent in-Delta water use.
So, what has changed since then to cause such a decline in the health of the Delta? To quickly characterize the issue at hand, the Delta of today has the same general land use with the exception of a few urban expansions in Stockton; has less dredging due to regulations; is striving to meet a prescribed engineering standard; has the same tides; has treated wastewater discharges; highly regulated non-point source discharges, including urban and agricultural storm water runoff and return flows; and roughly the same amount of applied water on crops as it has in the past.
But, (wait for it), the Delta now has much less inflow from the watershed and much less outflow to Suisun, San Pablo and San Francisco bays than before the record increases in south-of-the-Delta diversions.
The Delta of 50 or 100 years ago supported thriving populations of salmon, striped bass, and Delta smelt. Are striped bass then to blame for the decline of the Delta?
Stockton was once a bustling waterfront port and industrial town making a name for itself in the 1920s and ’30s. Is urbanization thus to blame for the decline of the Delta?
It was in the era of the 1920s and ’30s when untreated wastewater discharges and unregulated storm water runoff “tainted” the waters of the Delta. Yet the salmon, striped bass and smelt still thrived.
Common sense leads us to the only one remaining culprit for the precipitous decline of the Delta: the increased water exports by the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project, since their development in the 1940s to the record diversions in 2004-05, which nearly destroyed the Delta ecosystem and continue to decimate the health of the Delta to the present day.
Many are trying to avoid placing the primary cause of the Delta’s decline where it truly belongs: on the increased exports of water from the Delta over the past decade by the state and federal water projects.
Bring those exports in line with the reductions that rational analysis and science-based studies demonstrate are necessary for a healthy and economically viable Delta, and the problems will be solved. Anything else is tinkering around the edges.
• Larry Ruhstaller is the chairman of the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors and represents District 2. Ken Vogel also sits on the board, and represents District 4.