Solution needed for water management
judge’s ruling affects the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and
pushes water into crisis
9/14/2007, Bob Krauter
be a surprise to no one that California is in the throes of
another crisis. The state, never far from a malady of some
sort, is headed for a water calamity in 2008 unless Mother
Nature intervenes this winter. The dire water straits that
California finds itself in are due to decades of neglect on
water management. The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge
Oliver Wanger on Aug. 31 on a fish vs. farmer lawsuit has put
the exclamation point on the crisis facing managers of the
State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project.
Wanger has ordered state and federal officials to curtail
exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta into the
California Aqueduct next year to protect threatened delta
smelt, a tiny fish.
The Delta is the main hub of the state's plumbing system that
provides drinking water to 23 million Californians and 5
million acres of farmland.
The judge ordered water exports to be cut by nearly 2 million
acre feet, as much as one-third of the 6 million acre feet of
previously available water supply in a normal year.
At a news conference last week at the state capitol, state
officials and water leaders described Wanger's decision as
further evidence that the Delta is "in crisis" and they urged
attention on a permanent delta fix.
"We have to move forward with a comprehensive solution. This
won't be the last court case. It won't be the last disaster in
the Delta unless we proceed in a very, very comprehensive
fashion, dealing with conservation, storage, conveyance,
wastewater recycling - the entire package," said Lester Snow,
the state's water resources director. "There are no silver
bullets for fixing this problem."
Delta smelt are not the only threatened species from the delta
dilemma: Central Valley farmers, even before the court ruling,
saw reduced water deliveries this summer because of severe
drought conditions and a miserably light Sierra snowpack.
Wanger's decision will only add greater uncertainty and risk
to California farmers.
At the Capitol news conference, Steve Patricio, chairman of
Western Growers, provided a glimpse of the pain that could be
inflicted from reduced water deliveries in 2008. A pending
Western Growers study predicts thousands of lost jobs,
thousands of acres of fallowed fields and millions of dollars
in economic losses.
"When farmers stop farming, when land stops being planted, and
when orchards and vineyards die, farmworkers don't go to
work," Patricio said.
Patricioand others made the point that water is not just
important to fish and the environment, it is necessary for
food, jobs and the state's economy. Agricultural groups have
known for years that water management policies that merely
divvy up existing water supplies for myriad uses are a recipe
The state is now on a collision course in 2008 barring an
exceptionally wet winter. Urban water agencies are already
preparing for mandatory water conservation. Farmers are
scaling back their planting intentions.
As Lester Snow said, what's needed is action on a plan to fix
the delta and quick. Gov. Schwarzenegger has offered a $6
billion bond package of conveyance, storage, conservation, and
Some think that the solution is a peripheral canal or some
combination of existing delta channels to move water from
north to south while protecting the delta estuary. Others
favor more conservation.
Whether it is Gov. Schwarzenegger's plan or some other, it is
clear that the state's leaders must come to grips with the
crisis facing California and forge ahead with a solution.
Bob Krauter is the California editor based in Sacramento.