The League of Women Voters studies and recommends action on a variety of community issues including Water Management in California.
Watch Water: California’s New Gold: Report on League Bay Area Day on January 31, 2009
A stark description of the deterioration of California’s water infrastructure jolted a large group of League members who attended the Bay Area League program “Water: California’s New Gold” on January 31. State Senator Lois Wolk started things off by telling the group that Californians must embrace a diversified approach to water policy including conservation, reclamation and recycling, and ground water banking. Senator Wolk strongly recommended that the state appoint a commission to develop a plan for the Delta. This will take a year to eighteen months and after that the governance of the Delta should be changed so that one independent body will oversee the governance of the Delta.
Three of the factors that cause the crisis in the Delta—
- Levees are deteriorating
- Wildlife is threatened by climate changes and invasive species
- Population is growing throughout the region and the state
Delta Habitat: Can a healthy Delta habitat be restored? Christine Swanson a biologist with the Bay Institute focused on the habitat of the Delta, which is an essential ecosystem and link between freshwater rivers and the ocean. The Delta is a transformed watershed that drains 40 percent of the state. It used to be a tidal marsh with lots of vegetation and animals, now most of the land has been reclaimed by farmland. The Delta can never be restored to its previous state, but it can be restored to a healthy condition by restoring habitat, restoring processes, and removing stressors. There is a lot of scientific information about what will help the Delta, but it needs to be applied and the political process is difficult.
Crop choices: Can California be more water-wise in growing crops? A.G. Kawamura of the California Department of Food and Agriculture spoke of the importance of agriculture in the state. Agriculture developed here because of the predictable climate, but that predictability is declining. We must plan for sustainability in agriculture. It is likely there will be less water available for crops in the future. We need to develop smart irrigation scheduling and move to drip irrigation.
Weaknesses of levee system: After lunch, engineer Raymond Seed talked about the levee system. Sacramento is the least well-protected river city in North America. Problems with the levees are complicated by possibility of earthquake. The disaster of Katrina in New Orleans is less than what would happen if the levees fail in the Delta because water would be deeper—covering all structures less than three stories high—and water would be colder so people would die after less than an hour in the water. What is needed is billions of dollars to repair the levees, but in the current economic climate this may be difficult, and it is a long-term project. Mr. Seed offered three immediate steps that could be taken to help residents if an emergency occurs—boat ownership by homeowners should increase, lines could be painted on lampposts to show flood level in various areas, and at least one building higher than three stories should be built in each community.
Regional Conveyance of Water: Katherine Kelly of California Department of Water Resources pointed out that water conveyance has been part of the management of California water for many years. California has a whole system of water projects which need to word together following the generally accepted principle that water belongs to the people of California. Water rights give people the right to use water, but there is a prohibition against waste and the use of unnecessary water. At the present time the department is looking at the possibility of a peripheral canal. This is being evaluated but is only part of a plan.
During the day participants were given an overview of some of the problems and chance to consider a variety of possible solutions:
- One overseeing agency for the St. Joaquin/Sacramento Delta area
- Repairing and rebuilding levees
- Peripheral canal—several alternative plans have been suggested
- Modernization of agricultural planning so as to conserve water
- Conservation planning
- Limitation of development on flood plains
- Institution of short-term evacuation plans in case of emergency
The League has a continuing interest in water management issues in California. Further information will be available on the website of the Bay Area League: www.lwvsfbayarea.org