Friday, January 11, 2008

Once more wading through the delta quagmire

Unfortunately the quagmire in really in the politics of the Delta. I had missed this NPR program until reminded of it while reading Alex Breitler's blog at the Stockton Record.
[Dr. Jeffrey] Mount says climate change is conspiring against the fragile balance at work in the delta. In order to serve millions of Californians, the salty water of the San Francisco Bay must be kept away from the pumps that bring fresh water to cities and farms. It requires constant management and enough fresh water at all times to push the salt water back.

Dr. Jeffrey Mount is the Director of the Center for Watershed Management at UC Davis. He was, at one time, a member of the California State Reclamation Board. This agency has the following mission.
  • To control flooding along the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and their tributaries in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

  • To cooperate with various agencies of the federal, State and local governments in establishing, planning, constructing, operating, and maintaining flood control works.

  • To maintain the integrity of the existing flood control system and designated floodways through the Board's regulatory authority by issuing permits for encroachments.
When Dr. Mount, and other members, started to exert their authority to regulate development in flood plains, Green Governor Schwarzenegger fired them all and replaced them with developer friendly members.

Now, Schwarzenegger wants to build more dams that will provide for collection of more water without any concern for what is happening in the delta. The alternative, a Healthy Delta Community Plan, is not getting media attention. The news is always what the Governor says, what the Water Agencies say, what the California Farm Bureau says and rarely what the community says. Maybe we need a new narrative, one that tells the story of the people rather than the agencies.

Aquafornia gives us the media coverage in a nutshell. We have to begin to personalize this, to make people realize just what it will mean to meet this challenge after you strip away all of the hype.


brthomas said...

Rising sea levels, Delta islands eroding farther below sea level every year, and a thousand miles of fragile levees that nobody can afford to maintain or upgrade ensures that agriculture will have to abandoned sooner or later on many of the Delta islands. We should figure out which islands and which levees are worth preserving and give them the maintenance and upgrades that they need. The most severely eroded islands should be taken out of agriculture and converted to wildlife habitat. It is always a difficult decision to abandon productive farmland. The land value would drop to zero after the levee breaks on an island that is too far below sea level to be worth repairing. Farmers on these islands would be smart to accept a buyout if government was smart enough to offer one.

Partial flooding of the eroded islands might reduce the pressure on the levees and allow them to survive a bit longer. Restoring natural marshes on these islands would provide habitat for birds, turtles, frogs and native plants. Unfortunately, marshes that are disconnected far below the level of the river would not be able to provide habitat for river fish like salmon.

Write to your legislators to support habitat restoration in the California Delta. Assembly Bill 2502 will improve California Delta habitat for fish and other wildlife.

brthomas said...

Oops, a little clarification is needed. AB2502 targets habitat restoration on lands where the restored marshes would connect with the river. This would address the most immediate need to provide habitat for the food chains that support the salmon and many other river-dwelling fish species whose populations are currently endangered in the California Delta.

I don't know if severely eroded islands could be added to this or some future legislation. Eroded islands provide different habitat opportunities, but farming there is doomed unless there is a massive program of levee upgrades to defend against rising sea levels. An orderly transition from agriculture to habitat would be far better than crisis management after the levees have collapsed.