Sunday, March 18, 2007

"nor any drop to drink."

The Stockton Record has published another in their excellent series on the California Delta. This time, they are focusing on the quality of water in the streams and reservoirs that feed the Delta. This story is based on a new EPA mandated list from the State Water Resources Control Board defining those water resources found to be polluted. That list has 686 bodies of water state wide. It is a sorry picture.

If it has done nothing else, the Dept. of Water Resources has documented enough reasons for everyone paying attention to what is going on in the Delta. The water that flows through there provides drinking water for 23 million Californians. The Delta has 1,100 miles of levees, much of which is in poor repair due to years of neglect.

This spring, the State of California is trying to redefine what they are going to do in the future to meet objectives for our future water supply. The problem with this is that they are also redefining those objectives. There are multiple planning processes going on at the same time with differing charters. It is inevitable that they will arrive at some conflicting conclusions.

  • Delta Vision Project mandated by Governor Schwarzenegger.
  • Bay Delta Conservation Plan
  • Legislative Actions in current session
    • SB 27 (Simitian) would start working toward a peripheral canal
    • SB 59 (Cogdil) would authorize two new dams: Temperance Flat and Sites.
    • Ongoing hearings on Delta Vision, most recent March 13, 2007.
Restore the Delta is a grassroots organization dedicated to protecting all of the uses of the Delta for future generations. They have likened the planning process to speed dating.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan Steering Committee, however, is already poised to begin examining nine possible conservation strategies for "protecting" existing fisheries, before the independent review of science has even been conducted. Forget letting Steering Committee members find the best possible solution for restoring Delta fisheries from thoughtful deliberation and complete and accurate science. There are nine possible strategies suggested by the Public Policy Institute Report on the Delta, which are being bent and construed by water contractors to support the development of the peripheral canal.

Like speed dating, the outcome, if this process continues, will not be based on any real understanding of the Delta’s ecosystem and will result in a bad environmental "marriage."

At the core of the Delta Vision process is the reliance on a group of "stakeholders" who are providing the input. The choice of these stakeholders determines what the outcome will be. The list is loaded with development and agricultural interests and neglects and effectively excludes fishing interests or any representation of the Indian Tribes with treaty rights to fishing and/or water use.

One way to look at the board is to note the prominence of Thomas Birmingham, General Manager and General Counsel of the Westlands Water District, a major irrigation water supplier and a frequently cited polluter. Birmingham was the counsel for Southern California's Metropolitan Water District in the law suit over the draining of Mono Lake. This is a suit that is still in court because the Metropolitan Water District has failed to live up to it's agreements.

It has taken me months to begin to understand and untangle the various threads of influence at work in determining future water policies and practices. Through this, several things are clear.
  • Grassroots political involvement is absolutely necessary to protect our future. We need policies that will look to the 7th Generation and are not getting them.
  • The influence of developer money on local electoral politics will ensure that local governments will always try to optimize local growth and the expense of our future.
  • The funding process for local governments in California makes it inevitable that they must pay for today's services by mortgaging our future through an ever increasing load of new bonds.
  • Planners do not know the extent to which Global Warming is affecting our water supply.
  • Most importantly, that the water available to California users is already over allocated for drier than normal years.
If there were ever a set of circumstances that called for the application of Green principles to the solution to these problems, it is the Delta and the time is right now. It is absolutely necessary that Greens become involved in shaping local attitudes toward water, it's usage, it's preservation and future planning. Southern California has the population to be the difference maker in terms of political power and Southern California has a history of abusive acquisition of water rights, all in the name of continued growth.

While it may be more fun to speculate about a Green Party presidential candidate, I do it myself, if we want to preserve the future of this state until the 7th Generation, we had better be actively working with our local governments on planning our water future.

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