THE DELTA AND WATER
Research and article by Buff Coonan
75% of the water in California is in the north
75% of the population is in the south
Agriculture and Development vs. the Environment? Environment usually loses.
97% of the Delta Wetlands are gone
82% of the Bay’s original wetlands are gone
50-60% of the fresh water from Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers are now diverted to agriculture and Southern California*
Wetlands - an area covered permanently or occasionally with shallow fresh or salt water. Swamps, bogs, marshes, and pools absorb flood waters, filter pollutants running off the land and provide shelter and feeding grounds for fish and wildlife.
Estuary, Delta and Wetlands are often referred to as the Baylands and contain one of the richest assemblages of plants and animals of any natural community in the world.
The Delta is a confluence of two rivers. The south flowing Sacramento and the north flowing San Joaquin. They drain the 450 mile long and 50 mile wide Central Valley of California.
About 760,000 years ago much of the Central Valley was a great freshwater lake whose outlet was the Salinas River and ultimately Monterey Bay. About 560,000 years ago tectonic uplifting allowed the lake to rise enough to cut through the soft soils of what is now the Bay Area. The Carqueniz Strait was carved and the Salinas Valley plugged.
San Francisco Bay is not really a bay but is the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas. An estuary is a partially enclosed body of water where river water meets and mixes with ocean water. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is the uppermost portion of the this estuary.
The Delta was originally a vast marsh land of bear, beaver and elk. Over 100 years ago levees were constructed to create farmland and there was a decline in fisheries and wildlife. Today it has 57 islands and hundred of thousands of acres of marshes, mudflats and farmland along with several hundred miles of channels and sloughs.
In 1887 the state allowed the formation of irrigation districts and the age of dams arrived.
In 1933 the state legislature approved the Central Valley Project for export of “surplus” water from north to south. This started with the Shasta Dam. Because of funding problems, it was taken over by a Federal government’s Bureau of Reclamation in 1935. The Bureau of Reclamation was created in 1902 during Theodore Roosevelt’s administration. It was charged with bringing water to arid and semi-arid regions of the Western States. This Federal Central Valley Project is a 500 mile long aquaduct that carries millions of acre feet of water a year from Lake Shasta to Bakersfield. It has 8 power plants 20 dams and reservoirs.
There is also a state water project which went into effect in 1957. This is a 444 mile long aquaductthat carries several million acre feet of Feather River and Delta water from Tracy to Lake Perris in Riverside County.
The Federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project take half of the rain and snow melt that once flowed through the Bay.
The primary difference between the two projects is that the state’s canal continues on to the southern tip of the Valley and then lifts the water more than 2000 feet over the Tehachape mountains for delivery to Southern California. This has made the State Water Project the largest user of electricity in the state. Another difference is that federal law requires that the Federal Central Valley Project not deliver water to any farmer holding more than 160 acres in order to encourage family farms. Hence, the State Water Project was encouraged by owners of large tracts in the San Joaquin Valley.
Water development planning in California, as practiced in 1980 was not based on need but on contracts that water districts signed with the state in the 1960’s and on the customers ability to pay.
Almost nothing on earth matches the gigantic web work of water distribution facilities sprawling across the face of California. The Bay Delta region has been described as California’s water faucet. Drinking water for 22 million people and irrigation water for 4 million acres of the world’s most productive farmland pass through the Delta.
In 1944 the state and federal governments joined to implement a comprehensive plan for the Delta. This is the California Federal Program known as the CALFED. The mission of this program is to develop and implement a long-term comprehensive plan that will restore ecological health and improve water management for beneficial uses in the Bay Delta. It is a 30 year plan.
The Delta Today
Nearly two dozen federal and state agencies have regulatory or management responsibility for some aspect of the Bay Delta. The CALFED program serves as a forum through which the agencies coordinate their actions and evaluate their progress.
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) is being prepared by the California Department of Water Resources and a group of water agencies with the cooperation of state and federal agencies and other interest groups. A working draft was released November 18, 2010. The main elements were :
Creation of more than 100000 acres of wildlife habitat
Vigorous scientific assessment to gauge the recovery of threatened species and adjust accordingly.
The relocation of the Delta’s water diversion point.
Builds new intakes on the Sacramento River and two tunnels to carry water 35 miles south to the pumping plants near Tracy. From there water would flow into the aquaducts that supply the Silicon Valley and cities from Ventura to San Diego.
In 1982, a peripheral canal to take water around the Delta was voted down by the people. A pre-public draft will be released in February 2013 and maybe a public draft in the Spring of 2013.
A panel discussion was held on Wednesday 2/6/2013 in Sacramento to try to answer the question:
“Is peace possible in the Delta water wars?”
California Department of Water Resources Delta Initiatives e-News page.