Encouraging developments

An important purpose of this newsletter is to provide an ongoing narrative of the various processes that affect the Delta – from a Delta perspective. More often than not, the Delta’s story is represented by officials from outside the Delta who have easy access to media and large public relations budgets, and who support the agenda to make the Delta into something that it has never been. They seek to turn the Delta back into some type of Eden that it never was, when it was actually a raw, wild, dangerous, and beautiful place that would have been inhabitable for the 21st-Century permanent population that now exists in the region. (This is not to say that ecosystem restoration in specific areas cannot happen, but it must be part of a local effort in partnership with others, not as part of the cover up for the water grab.)

All these processes and their lack of positive results can feel overwhelming and discouraging for our readers. Every so often, we even hear from readers who say something along the lines of “We respect your work, but the entire Delta effort seems futile because the project is a done deal.”

We understand the sense of defeat. One long study or planning process follows another in a seemingly endless series of efforts that don’t seem to accomplish anything. Once in a while the California legislature or the U.S. Congress slips in something that looks like a game-changer, but then it takes a long time to discover what the real consequences are. Consequently, it is easy for people to become apathetic about the Delta’s future, or worst discouraged.

Restore the Delta staff, however, views these events and processes a bit differently. Keeping track of the BDCP, Delta reports by the PPIC, DSC development of the Delta Plan (which as of today is really not a plan), and a flood protection effort minus any details is truly preparation for the battle that is still to come. What we in the Delta are experiencing is metaphorically akin to the Guns of August – the theater, postering and preparation for the real battle for the heart and the soul of the Delta’s future.

Whether one fishes the Delta, farms the Delta, or spends her weekends boating up and down its waterways; whether one bird watches or attends the region’s numerous farming and cultural festivals; whether one drinks white or red wine from the Delta; whether one drives trucks full of Delta produce or sells insurance to Delta marinas and farms; whether one already drinks or will drink municipal water in the near future from the Delta — the Delta is our home. Our present and future environmental and economic well-being is tied to the health of this estuary. All that we value in terms of work, quality of life, and recreation is tied to the quality and quantity of water passing through the Delta.

Fighting to protect the Delta is not, however, simply about protecting the region’s investments, or figuring out how to wring more profit out of the land or the fisheries. It is about the people of the Delta and of California recognizing the deep value of a region that has been misused by outsiders, and sometimes not fully appreciated or protected by its own people. It’s about believing in something bigger and better than just the desires of individual stakeholders.

The defenders of the Delta, local water agency leaders, Delta engineers, fishing leaders, engaged business people and politicos, and involved California environmentalists and Delta farmers, live their love for this region through their ongoing advocacy and vigilance on behalf of the estuary. They deserve the support and respect of Delta residents, for it is their efforts that have protected the regions thus far.

What they need from local Delta residents is not cynicism regarding engagement, or apathy about the value of involvement. What they need is for area residents to recognize the real value of this region:

Along the river
wild sunflowers
over my head
the dead
who gave me life
give me this
our relative the air
our rich friend

silt       Lorine Niedecker,

American poet

And then, from such recognition of the value of the Delta, they need area residents to act bravely to make their voices heard in opposition to the BDCP whenever possible.

What Delta water leaders need is a growing, bigger, and more committed band of Delta supporters for the cause at hand. What we all need is for what is happening in the region to be part of each supporter’s daily conversations with others, at home and in the world.

The arc of history in general, and for the Delta in particular, moves slowly. But make no mistake, daily, as shown in the examples below, it is bending toward progress. That is why the people of the Delta must remain steadfast, engaged, and ready to take action.

On flows: The Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) staff and State Water Resources Control Board are moving ahead with determining flows instead of waiting for the completion of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, as exporters would prefer.

On emergency response: SB 27, signed by the Governor in 2009, required the California Emergency Management Agency (CalEMA) to form a task force to develop a strategy for improving emergency response in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta using a “multi-agency coordination system.” The task force was composed of a representative from each of the five Delta counties, the Department of Water Resources, and the Delta Protection Commission. The report, along with a funding request to implement the recommendations, has now been delivered to the Governor and the legislature. Three “action” initiatives underway could move the SB27 strategy forward:

  1. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) has begun planning meetings with local agencies.
  2. CalEMA has now allocated $400,000 to complete the “Delta Catastrophic Flood Incident Plan” called for in the SB27 report.
  3. The Delta Protection Commission (DPC) has submitted a regional flood response project application and is waiting for DWR to issue the grant.

On levee work: A while back, legislators earmarked $35 million in bond funds for protection of aqueducts, to be appropriated to the Delta levee program administered by the Department of Water Resources and the Department of Fish and Game. Under the 2009 legislation, the Delta Stewardship Council had to approve any projects as well.

The major beneficiary of this aqueduct protection: the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), which relies on Mokelumne River water moved through the Delta.   EBMUD approached five reclamation districts, all represented by the Central Delta Water Agency, which needed to do levee work but couldn’t afford the local share under the State’s subvention program. EBMUD agreed to pay the local share if the reclamation districts would to the work. The Stewardship Council approved the plan for a total of nine projects for Lower Roberts Island, Lower Jones Tract, Upper Jones Tract, Woodward Island, and Orwood/Palm Tract.

The five projects that were part of the first round are almost complete, and a second round of four projects is under way. Since the State has cash flow problems right now, EBMUD is also providing for cash flow for the projects going forward. This is a win/win for EDMUD and local rec districts, and there are habitat benefits, too. In the project applications, engineers included habitat enhancement areas. Levees are being widened an additional 20 feet, and trees will be planted above the normal high water mark.

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