Almost all agree that the Delta — the state’s largest water system and in many ways the carrier of California’s lifeblood — is in serious trouble. And they all agree it needs fixing, fast.
As a response to those concerns and a three-year drought, a quintet of bills is floating through the state Legislature with the goal of completely overhauling the state’s patchwork water system.
Not everyone is impressed.
Bill Jennings, longtime activist and a member of Restore the Delta and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, doesn’t mince words. He told me this week that the legislative package is a rush job that could have a “horrific impact” on the Delta and those who depend upon it.
To say that this cure is worse than the illness is quite the indictment.
The Delta is dammed, diverted, polluted and plain overused. Fish populations have crashed, water quality has cratered and there’s not nearly enough water there to give the state’s users what they’ve been promised.
Not to wade into hyperbole, but the Delta’s close to collapse.
Following the example of the past 30 years and doing nothing seems to invite disaster.
Still, to Jennings and several other watchdogs, the most recent attempt to repair the West’s largest estuary is really no healing effort at all. It’s a way to rework water rights to favor Southern California urbanites and those using exported wet stuff to farm the west side of the Central Valley at the expense of those who call the Delta home.
Specifically, Jennings and Restore the Delta’s Barbara Barrigan-Parilla say the bills are based not on the best possible water policy but on the premise of building a peripheral canal that will funnel fresh water straight to Parts Previously Unwatered, leaving farmers, boaters and anglers in the lower reaches of the Delta high and dry.
Their take, it should be noted, isn’t the whole story. Sen. Lois Wolk, who authored one of the five bills, is a stated opponent of such a canal and fierce advocate for Delta residents. And other lawmakers have insisted their legislation does not support or argue for such a project.
However, Jennings contends the package paves the path for a peripheral canal by granting governance of the Delta to a “stewardship council,” with a majority of the council’s positions being gubernatorial appointees.
There’s no denying a peripheral canal has been a long-stated goal of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. If such legislation were to pass, it’s no stretch of the imagination to picture a board stacked with canal rah-rahs.
That in and of itself should worry anyone who calls the Central Valley home. Because if you live here, your life is affected by the rhythms of the Delta. It might not be by the ebb and flow of the tide, but it’s guaranteed you drink the water, know someone who farms thanks to that water, or eat the food produced by it.
Tracy is no exception. Many local farmers depend on it, the city uses the estuary to dispose of its treated wastewater, and each time a Tank Towner turns on the shower, a little bit of the Delta comes streaming out.
Wholesale changes to a river system that provides water to millions of acres of farmland and millions of people — not to mention one that is home to more than 4 million people — should not be made in a hurry. Especially if those changes lead to the creation of a new system that drains our region’s environmental and economic vitality.
There’s no denying that the Delta’s pulse is faint and getting fainter, nor is there any argument that the status quo is unacceptable.
But not just any fix will do. It must be the right one.
What’s on the table doesn’t seem to fit that description.
The five water bills
• Senate Bill 12, by Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto
• Senate Bill 229, by Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica
• Senate Bill 458, by Lois Wolk, D-Davis (Tracy representative)
• Assembly Bill 39, by Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael
• Assembly Bill 49, by Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles
• Share your thoughts with associate editor and columnist Jon Mendelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.