California Water Wars Spotlight: Sacramento Delta

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Suisun Marsh Salinity Control Gates near Collinsville. Credit: water.ca.gov

The Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers empty into the Sacramento Delta. The Delta is the most important, and contentious, area for water in all of California. Simply put, everyone wants some of its water. Those who live in the area want it mostly to stay there, to support fishing, wildlife, birding, and recreational interests. But agriculture in the Central Valley needs water too as do the 20 million people who live in mostly semi-arid desert in southern California. Much of the water for both areas comes from someplace else and the Sacramento Delta contributes much of it.

The federal Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project already siphon off water from the Delta and send it southward. They have been doing so for decades. Those areas have powerful, growing thirsts.  For years, a phantom menace has lurked in the Delta, terrifying those who want the water to stay there. Its name is Peripheral Canal. And it may be about to become a reality.

But first, let’s look at the politics of water in the Delta itself. Two of the primary interests are fishing, mostly salmon, and agriculture, and they can sometimes be at odds, especially when talk of a peripheral canal comes up.

The Golden Gate Salmon Association recently announced the 2012 salmon fishing season, saying it looks to be a good one but detailed the damage that Delta pumps and pumping of water do to the salmon population.  Salmon are often killed in the pumps. Other salmon are trucked around the pumps.  If too much downstream water is used, the temperature of the water rises, hurting spawning and egg incubation. GGSA director Roger Thomas says “The more fish we have, the more money is spent by people trying to catch them or in the commercial fishing sector, all of which is great for our economy.”

The Delta itself is home to some of the most fertile land in California. But it is a somewhat forgotten area. Agriculture there is hurting. The ecosystem is in trouble. About 2,500 people live there now. If they continue to leave, who will watch and maintain the water infrastructure, asks The California Spigot.

“We need these folks. If you want managed water, you’ve got to have people on the ground with the motivation to manage it… If you eliminate the livelihood of the people who live in the marinas, towns and farms, no one will watch the Delta.  Somebody who flies over every six months doesn’t have much motive to catch stuff,” says Robert Benedetti, a professor of political science.

Worse for Delta residents and their agriculture, but possibly better for salmon fishing are plans to build a peripheral canal.   Two massive canals (or tunnels) would be built diverting water around the Delta and sending it south. This would protect salmon from the pumps but would obviously impact the Delta water supply. Further, Delta agriculture would be damaged, especially since the plan includes returning 100,000 acres of farm land to marsh.

There are no easy answers here. California doesn’t have enough water for everyone. That’s the problem.

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  1. Todd and Terri Andersen We are looking to sell this house, property and water rights. We live on a much wooded 20 acre parcel. Our water is very valuable but we don't know how to have it appraised. We have tried Real Estate companies and they don’t know what to do either. One said “all we could do is calling it a spring”, however it’s more than just a spring.. We also had the water tested by UC Davis and out water is as clean as Crystal Geysers water in Weed California, and all the minerals. Estimates by the USGS are between are 1,000.00 – 4,000.00 a second. For more information please contact us. Thank You
  2. Dan Bacher This piece falsely portrays the battle over the canal as salmon fishermen versus "agriculture" when it is anything but. If the author had done more research, he would have discovered that the real conflict is between salmon anglers and other fishermen, Indian Tribes, Delta residents, family farmers throughout northern California, grassroots environmentalists and the California public versus unsustainable agribusiness interests that irrigate land that should have never been irrigated, water privateers including Stewart Resnick, Southern California developers, Wall Street-funded "environmental" NGOs such as the Nature Conservancy and corrupt politicians."Two massive canals (or tunnels) would be built diverting water around the Delta and sending it south. This would protect salmon from the pumps but would obviously impact the Delta water supply," the author states.Actually, this statement has no basis in fact. The canal would only spread the carnage of millions of fish including salmon that die every year at the state and federal pumps between the South Delta and the Sacramento River. There is no doubt that the same water contractors that were mandated to build state of the art fish screens in the current pumping facilities - and have failed to do so - wouldn't fund or support new state of the art fish screens at the entrance to the intakes to canal or tunnel on the Sacramento River. In fact, the carnage would occur in the direct migration path of salmon and other species on the Sacramento River, probably resulting in the extinction of Central Valley steelhead and Sacramento River winter, fall, late fall and spring run chinook salmon.
  3. Bob Morris The battle within the Delta is between salmon and agriculture. The battle outside of the Delta is to get some of the Delta water.
  4. Btokars The politics of water is the problem.  Not enough thoughtful science.  Too much Big Ag PR that paints a distorted picture of the real situation.  Californian's need to share the water.  There is enough to go around but not when Westlands and others south of the Delta insist it is all theirs, regardless of the realities of weather, science, and the needs of keeping a healthy habitat. This video has a point-of-view but it lays out what is going on in Central Valley and why people should care: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XoRXX8Xcu4E&hd=1
  5. Bob Morris I grew up in New England where there is plenty of water. They don't have water wars. But saying there is enough to go around in the Delta unless someone takes some of it implies that shortages exist. Agriculture accounts for one-sixth of California's economy. Most Californians like have fresh vegetables and fruit year round. Do we want that to go away?
  6. Btokars No one dismisses the importance of agriculture to California and the nation. But there was a time, and so long ago, that salmon and farming co-existed. Fishing families thrived and farmers did, too.  What happened?  Why are we even having this debate?  The answer is simple, when too much fresh water is extracted from the Delta, salmon populations declined.  A look at a chart showing the link between excessive water diversions and the drop in the numbers of salmon tell that tale.  But those who are doing PR for Big Ag's most powerful forces will point to other issues.  They like to say it's pollution in the Delta from cities, invasive species that like to eat baby salmon, and their favorite reason is "ocean conditions."  Now, it is true that each of those issues are responsible for the trouble that salmon have been in but they never once mention excessive water diversions. Fresh water flows are needed by salmon.  Fresh water flows help dilute pollution, fresh water flows are needed to flush the Delta.  Surely it is not unreasonable to want to find the right mix of water for salmon and agriculture. California's Delta Challenge, is a video that looks at all these things and features respected scientists addressing the problems mentioned above.  Take a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kYsTrYm7_c&hd=1
  7. Dan Bacher "Agriculture accounts for one-sixth of California's economy. Most Californians like have fresh vegetables and fruit year round. Do we want that to go away?"  This question is based on a false assumption. Actually, there will be more water for family farms that supply "fresh vegetables and fruit year round" if drainage impaired land, land that should have never been irrigated, "farmed" by corporate agribusiness interests is taken out of production. And there will be also more water for salmon and other fish for consumers to enjoy on the dinner table if selenium-laced soil is taken out of production.   You are confusing "Agriculture" with corporate agribusiness. They are NOT the same thing.  And the battle within the Delta is NOT between salmon and agriculture. Actually, fresh water flows through the Delta - and less water exports for southern California and west side agribusiness corporations - benefit both fish and farms. You apparently didn't hear about the "farmer/fisherman" summit in Antioch last April.  Family farmers, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Indian Tribes, grassroots environmentalists and people throughout the Delta and Northern California understand that to save the salmon, you must save Delta farms, and that to save Delta farms, you must save the salmon!
  8. Bob Morris But if less land is cultivated, doesn't that mean less food not more? My basic assumption in this series of articles is that there is too much competition for too little water. The next article is on the 800 lb. gorilla of California water, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
  9. Dan Bacher "But if less land is cultivated, doesn't that mean less food not more?" The sheer acreage of land "cultivated" is much less important than how the land is cultivated. The most productive land in California is organically farmed land, not industrial scale agriculture like that you find on the San Joaquin Valley's west side.  By taking drainage impaired land out of production and stopping the irrigation of land that should have never been irrigated, you free the water up for salmon and other fish and family farms for food production. In other words, taking bad land out of production would result in more food, not less - as well as a healthier environment.  This is why the Brown and Obama administrations refuse to do a cost-benefits analysis of building the peripheral canal and exporting more water to corporate agribusiness and southern California. If the cost-benefits analysis was done, it would undoubtedly prove that the cost of building the canal and exporting more water to agribusiness and southern California would greatly outweigh the benefits.   The drive to build the peripheral canal has nothing to do with doing what's best for consumers, family farmers, salmon fishermen, Central Valley salmon, Delta fish populations and the people of California, only what's best for corporate agribusiness, developers and Wall Streets.  The essential conflict in the current water war is very simple: it is the 99 percent who are against the canal versus the 1 percent and their corrupt political operatives who are pushing it. Why else would Darrell Steinberg say a delay in the water bond until 2014 is "likely?"  The water bond provides billions in support to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the canal or tunnel. Steinberg and other canal promoters know that if the bond were voted on, it would be overwhelmingly defeated.  
  10. Mike Wade Biologist Chuck Hansen at the Mid-Pacific Region Water Users Conference in January reported that 300,000 striped bass live in the upper reaches of the Sacramento River and over the season consume an estimated 27 million salmon. Biologists have tracked bass hanging around the confluence of Georgiana Slough and the San Joaquin River with radio-tagged baby salmon in their stomachs. There is an 80 percent salmon mortality at Clifton Court Forebay due to striped bass predation. Habitat restoration is needed in the Delta to improve fish populations.  Ocean conditions have been widely reported as affecting the salmon population in recent years. There are unquestionably other factors than the pumps affecting entire fish populations and the federal court decisions reflect that.  Those unwilling to recognize the other factors are not helping salmon recover in the long run and in fact, may be contributing to its demise by protecting non-native predators. Mike Wade California Farm Water Coalition
16 comments
Todd and Terri Andersen
Todd and Terri Andersen

We are looking to sell this house, property and water rights. We live on a much wooded 20 acre parcel. Our water is very valuable but we don't know how to have it appraised. We have tried Real Estate companies and they don’t know what to do either. One said “all we could do is calling it a spring”, however it’s more than just a spring.. We also had the water tested by UC Davis and out water is as clean as Crystal Geysers water in Weed California, and all the minerals. Estimates by the USGS are between are 1,000.00 – 4,000.00 a second. For more information please contact us. Thank You

Dan Bacher
Dan Bacher

This piece falsely portrays the battle over the canal as salmon fishermen versus "agriculture" when it is anything but. If the author had done more research, he would have discovered that the real conflict is between salmon anglers and other fishermen, Indian Tribes, Delta residents, family farmers throughout northern California, grassroots environmentalists and the California public versus unsustainable agribusiness interests that irrigate land that should have never been irrigated, water privateers including Stewart Resnick, Southern California developers, Wall Street-funded "environmental" NGOs such as the Nature Conservancy and corrupt politicians."Two massive canals (or tunnels) would be built diverting water around the Delta and sending it south. This would protect salmon from the pumps but would obviously impact the Delta water supply," the author states.Actually, this statement has no basis in fact. The canal would only spread the carnage of millions of fish including salmon that die every year at the state and federal pumps between the South Delta and the Sacramento River. There is no doubt that the same water contractors that were mandated to build state of the art fish screens in the current pumping facilities - and have failed to do so - wouldn't fund or support new state of the art fish screens at the entrance to the intakes to canal or tunnel on the Sacramento River. In fact, the carnage would occur in the direct migration path of salmon and other species on the Sacramento River, probably resulting in the extinction of Central Valley steelhead and Sacramento River winter, fall, late fall and spring run chinook salmon.

Btokars
Btokars

The politics of water is the problem.  Not enough thoughtful science.  Too much Big Ag PR that paints a distorted picture of the real situation.  Californian's need to share the water.  There is enough to go around but not when Westlands and others south of the Delta insist it is all theirs, regardless of the realities of weather, science, and the needs of keeping a healthy habitat.

This video has a point-of-view but it lays out what is going on in Central Valley and why people should care:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XoRXX8Xcu4E&hd=1

ASM - Glenn County
ASM - Glenn County

Bottom line there are multiple stressors in the Delta and a lot of needs to be met in balancing a solution for the entire state. 

Bob Morris
Bob Morris

If the salmon win then Big Ag loses. And vice versa. This same pattern repeats itself through out all of the California water wars.

In this series of articles, I'm highlighting the various issues and players because, after all, a recent poll showed 85% of Californians didn't even know water comes from the Delta.

Mike Wade
Mike Wade

Recent research has proven that factors other than the pumps play a larger role in the dwindling salmon population. A "feeding frenzy" occurs when juvenile salmon migrate through the Delta and encounter striped bass that are waiting for an easy meal. Ocean conditions---water temperature and dwindling food supply---have also reduced the salmon numbers. Some individuals continue to lay the blame for low salmon numbers at the pumps but science is proving otherwise.

 

The author is correct in emphasizing the importance of the Delta in solving California's water issues. Current efforts through the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and the Delta Stewardship Council is drawing us closer to finding those necessary answers to both protect the Delta ecosystem and provide a reliable water supply. That water supply satisfies the needs of 25 million Californians and is used to grow a safe and healthy food supply.

Mike Wade

California Farm Water Coaltiion

Seleniumman
Seleniumman

The first paragraph of your article should have added "farming" to the list of interests of Delta residents who want it to stay there.  Thousands of small farmers farm on 500,000 acres of rich soil in the Delta.  western San Joaquin Valley agribusiness wants that Delta water to irrigate salty, high selenium soil with drainage problems.

Seleniumman
Seleniumman

The first paragraph of your article should have added "farming" to the list of interests of Delta residents who want it to stay there.  Thousands of small farmers farm on 500,000 acres of rich soil in the Delta.  western San Joaquin Valley agribusiness wants that Delta water to irrigate salty, high selenium soil with drainage problems.

Bob Morris
Bob Morris

The battle within the Delta is between salmon and agriculture. The battle outside of the Delta is to get some of the Delta water.

Bob Morris
Bob Morris

I grew up in New England where there is plenty of water. They don't have water wars. But saying there is enough to go around in the Delta unless someone takes some of it implies that shortages exist.

Agriculture accounts for one-sixth of California's economy. Most Californians like have fresh vegetables and fruit year round. Do we want that to go away?

Chris Gulick
Chris Gulick

Once again Mike you have skillfully deflected attention away from the primary role the export pumps and the amounts diverted have on the decline of the watershed and the negative impacts on the fisheries.

Blaming the Striped Bass for the decline in the Salmon population is an excellent ploy until the reader is made aware that the Striper population is crashing at the same rate as the Salmon.

I've come to realize that continuing to point fingers in every other direction and minimizing the actual impact exports and export pumps have is the only weapon left in your arsenal and that is sad.

The internet is a wonderful thing.

People are becoming more engaged and educated with time.

At some point hollow rhetoric and talking points won't be enough to blind the readers to the truth.  

A truth that will include who will actually benefit and who will pay to subsidize the narrow segment of the agricultural industry that you represent.

Btokars
Btokars

No one dismisses the importance of agriculture to California and the nation. But there was a time, and so long ago, that salmon and farming co-existed. Fishing families thrived and farmers did, too.  What happened?  Why are we even having this debate?  The answer is simple, when too much fresh water is extracted from the Delta, salmon populations declined.  A look at a chart showing the link between excessive water diversions and the drop in the numbers of salmon tell that tale.  But those who are doing PR for Big Ag's most powerful forces will point to other issues.  They like to say it's pollution in the Delta from cities, invasive species that like to eat baby salmon, and their favorite reason is "ocean conditions."  Now, it is true that each of those issues are responsible for the trouble that salmon have been in but they never once mention excessive water diversions. Fresh water flows are needed by salmon.  Fresh water flows help dilute pollution, fresh water flows are needed to flush the Delta.  Surely it is not unreasonable to want to find the right mix of water for salmon and agriculture.

California's Delta Challenge, is a video that looks at all these things and features respected scientists addressing the problems mentioned above.  Take a look:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kYsTrYm7_c&hd=1

Dan Bacher
Dan Bacher

"Agriculture accounts for one-sixth of California's economy. Most Californians like have fresh vegetables and fruit year round. Do we want that to go away?" 

This question is based on a false assumption. Actually, there will be more water for family farms that supply "fresh vegetables and fruit year round" if drainage impaired land, land that should have never been irrigated, "farmed" by corporate agribusiness interests is taken out of production. And there will be also more water for salmon and other fish for consumers to enjoy on the dinner table if selenium-laced soil is taken out of production.

 

You are confusing "Agriculture" with corporate agribusiness. They are NOT the same thing. 

And the battle within the Delta is NOT between salmon and agriculture. Actually, fresh water flows through the Delta - and less water exports for southern California and west side agribusiness corporations - benefit both fish and farms. You apparently didn't hear about the "farmer/fisherman" summit in Antioch last April. 

Family farmers, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Indian Tribes, grassroots environmentalists and people throughout the Delta and Northern California understand that to save the salmon, you must save Delta farms, and that to save Delta farms, you must save the salmon!

Mike Wade
Mike Wade

Biologist Chuck Hansen at the Mid-Pacific Region Water Users Conference

in January reported that 300,000 striped bass live in the upper reaches

of the Sacramento River and over the season consume an estimated 27

million salmon. Biologists have tracked bass hanging around the

confluence of Georgiana Slough and the San Joaquin River with

radio-tagged baby salmon in their stomachs. There is an 80 percent

salmon mortality at Clifton Court Forebay due to striped bass predation.

Habitat restoration is needed in the Delta to improve fish populations.

 Ocean conditions have been widely reported as affecting the salmon

population in recent years. There are unquestionably other factors than

the pumps affecting entire fish populations and the federal court

decisions reflect that. 

Those unwilling to recognize the other factors are not helping salmon

recover in the long run and in fact, may be contributing to its demise

by protecting non-native predators.

Mike Wade

California Farm Water Coalition

Dan Bacher
Dan Bacher

"But if less land is cultivated, doesn't that mean less food not more?"

The sheer acreage of land "cultivated" is much less important than how the land is cultivated. The most productive land in California is organically farmed land, not industrial scale agriculture like that you find on the San Joaquin Valley's west side. 

By taking drainage impaired land out of production and stopping the irrigation of land that should have never been irrigated, you free the water up for salmon and other fish and family farms for food production. In other words, taking bad land out of production would result in more food, not less - as well as a healthier environment. 

This is why the Brown and Obama administrations refuse to do a cost-benefits analysis of building the peripheral canal and exporting more water to corporate agribusiness and southern California. If the cost-benefits analysis was done, it would undoubtedly prove that the cost of building the canal and exporting more water to agribusiness and southern California would greatly outweigh the benefits.  

The drive to build the peripheral canal has nothing to do with doing what's best for consumers, family farmers, salmon fishermen, Central Valley salmon, Delta fish populations and the people of California, only what's best for corporate agribusiness, developers and Wall Streets. 

The essential conflict in the current water war is very simple: it is the 99 percent who are against the canal versus the 1 percent and their corrupt political operatives who are pushing it. Why else would Darrell Steinberg say a delay in the water bond until 2014 is "likely?"  The water bond provides billions in support to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the canal or tunnel. Steinberg and other canal promoters know that if the bond were voted on, it would be overwhelmingly defeated.

 

Bob Morris
Bob Morris

But if less land is cultivated, doesn't that mean less food not more?

My basic assumption in this series of articles is that there is too much competition for too little water.

The next article is on the 800 lb. gorilla of California water, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.