January 20, 2017

Governor Brown brings new hope to end our Delta deficits

Most Californians know of our state’s budget deficit–but do you know about our water deficit in the Delta?

The amount of water exported to southern California from the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary is unsustainable. With the health of this rich estuary in danger of collapsing, California has been trying to address the problem through a habitat-conservation planning process called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP).

A collaboration of water and fish agencies, environmental organizations, and other interested parties, the BDCP has a goal of protecting and restoring the ecological health of the Delta and providing a more reliable water supply.

The election of Gov. Jerry Brown, and his subsequent appointment of Jerry Meral as deputy secretary to head the BDCP process, bring hope of a more transparent and honest process. Previously most environmental groups had no seat at the table because that seat came with a heavy price tag: agreement to support a new conveyance like a peripheral canal.

State and federal agencies agree that the Delta is overpromised and overburdened. The State Water Resources Control Board recently found that the Delta needs a 75% increase in net flows to protect public-trust values, beneficial uses, fisheries, and water quality. Even more gravely, the Department of Interior recently reported to Congress that already-scarce water supplies in the western U.S. will probably dwindle further as a result of climate change, causing problems for millions in the region.

“Business as usual” water exports can no longer be supported. The National Academy of Sciences recently reviewed the Schwarzenegger administration’s BDCP work, and questioned the increased water diversions from the imperiled Bay-Delta that serves as a critical salmon nursery for the entire West Coast. Water deliveries to southern California must be reduced to reflect the scientific data and protect fisheries and water quality. We are therefore requesting revision to environmental documents for the BDCP to be consistent with “currently acknowledged water supplies available rather than promising to deliver inflated water contract demands.”

The health of the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary is important to all Californians. No one wants to lose our salmon runs or any other species due to excessive water exports. That’s why water conservation and increased water-use efficiency remain important even in this wet year. We must also continue to promote water-supply alternatives for southern California like stormwater recapture, water recycling, and increased groundwater banking.

Jim Metropulos, senior advocate, Sierra Club California

Jim Metropulos represents the Sierra Club from Sacramento on statewide water and energy issues.

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