Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bay Delta Decision

The USGS California Water Science Center has been working in the Delta for decades. Their work includes water monitoring, experimental wetlands and fish tagging. This data is the basis for the evaluation of the ecological health of the Bay Delta. The 2008 Bay Delta environmental study was ruled last Tuesday to be based upon faulty science and called for a rewrite of the US Fish and Wildlife plan for the Bay Delta.

This decision by Judge Wanger in the complex case of resolving the water management issues in California's critical water supply has reset the terms of discussion and future agreements of managing this resource, based upon information from all parties and the benchmarking by the USGS. The Fish and Wildlife Service has always emphasized the Delta Smelt issue as being key to measuring the Delta's health and functioning, and this ruling upends that argument. The responses cheering this decision are primarily from Southern California entities which filed the lawsuit and that are demanding more water from the Delta, including the MWD and its associated Water Contractors. The decision opens up the opportunity to send more water to Southern California and to agriculture, which drives the requirement for the Peripheral Canal construction to move more water out of the Bay Delta.

This Peripheral Canal would be funded by a water bond that was postponed from the midterm elections to the next statewide ballot in 2012. The proposed implementation of the Peripheral Canal has been covered very comprehensively by the Los Angeles Times. Today's edition covers a compromise "tunnel" option to the canal and existing pumping systems that's also on the table.

Aquafornia has a review and discussion of how the Bay Delta functions as the hub of water storage and and delivery, but also points out the deterioration that has taken place in the levees and water flow management. It also reviews the earlier decision by Judge Wanger in 2007. In March 2007, a state court ruled that DWR was in violation of the California Endangered Species Act by repeatedly failing to protect the smelt and endangered salmon over the last two decades. The judge threatened to shut down the pumps in 60 days, but the decision was appealed. In May, Judge Oliver Wanger, a federal court judge, threw out the federal permit, ordering all parties back to the court in August 2007. This decision had the effect of cutting water exports from the Bay Delta, but only in a temporary fashion. Now the Federal Secretary of the Interior has weighed in with support on the "tunnel option" as a solution to the impasse on dealing with this situation.

This battle for water as a diminishing resource in the State of California will only become more critical going forward, so it's imperative to develop a major plan for managing this key water resource in a responsible way. Its degradation shows just how treating it all as a plumbing problem to supply the highest water bidders is shortsighted and eventually disastrous.