Delta Flows: Immediate Threat to the Delta; Update from Climate Water Advocates

Immediate Delta Threat   

By: Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla

Because the Delta tunnel project has been such a long, all-consuming process/fight/project/challenge, we find that for many of our followers there is reduced bandwidth to engage with serious scenarios facing the Delta that need at times more of our attention than the tunnel. (The first round of many environmental impact reports for the tunnel and processes will commence this summer and will take years of response.)

Thus, we want to redirect your attention to the immediate problem at hand: the looming drought and the real threat of excessive water exports crashing the Delta. Section 13247 of the California Water Code is the provision of state law that requires the State Water Resources Control Board and all state agencies to implement water quality control plans. These is the law that requires the setting of inflow and outflow standards for the Delta. 

The California Emergency Services Act is the law under which the Governor can waive requirements of state law during an emergency.  Here’s a link to Governor Brown’s 2014 proclamation, where he used this Act to waive Water Code Section 13247 and CEQA (paragraph 9) to pump as much water as possible during the drought years of 2013 and 2014.  (By the way, it is the California Emergency Services Act that makes Delta water districts and environmentalists so understandably leery of the Delta tunnel, but we digress.)

The years of extended drought during the last decade and the lack of freshwater flows moving through the estuary set the stage for degraded water quality conditions that manifested in the growth of harmful algal blooms (HABs).  Over the last seven years, warmer weather, lack of pollution enforcement by state agencies, and ramped up water exports by federal law and presidential executive orders, have further degraded our water quality baseline and HABs have proliferated. Governor Newsom will have to decide whether to allow the State and Federal water projects to violate water quality standards in the Delta, leading to more harmful algal blooms that will devastate our communities, and its native fish and wildlife, or to follow a new path. Because baseline conditions in the Delta are worse than seven years ago, the situation is more dire.

Where will the water go?  A big chunk will go to big agribusiness in the San Joaquin Valley.  Since 2014, San Joaquin Valley farmers have planted almonds unchecked without any regard for what would happen during the next drought.

Metropolitan Water District, while never our best friend, has at least made headway on local projects and has sufficient water supplies to meet this year’s need. And of course, the impacts on California salmon runs will be disastrous.  NRDC’s Doug Obegi has written an outstanding blog that explains these other dynamics in great detail.

We fear that if Governor Newsom uses emergency powers to give San Joaquin Valley growers what they want, without consideration that the drought could be a multiple-year event, the Delta could be lost to HABs and remaining fish populations decimated. In the days ahead, we will be calling on all of you to tell Governor Newsom and California’s newspapers that during drought, protecting drinking water supplies for our neighbors, protecting Delta water supplies and waterways from HABs, and saving our rivers must be his first consideration.  Almond trees are a luxury, not a necessity for California.

Climate Water Advocate Update

By: Darius Waiters

I am Darius Waiters, a climate and water intern with Restore the Delta. This internship has been very much a learning experience. Through this internship, I have learned a lot about the Delta, as well as some details about water politics in California. 

My first task was to work as a member of a small team and present to the Delta Stewardship Council how data could be improved upon regarding their report on climate vulnerability for the Delta. The Delta Stewardship Council’s report was very comprehensive, but my team was tasked with analyzing the data present within the flood section of their report. We came up with suggestions for how the data could better represent the demographic of people most at risk of flood threat, as well as some ways this population could be supported. The report denoted that people with lower levels of education and from diverse backgrounds were disproportionately more likely to be at risk of flood. We thought that it would be very helpful for the DSC to better represent the demographics of the people present in their data, particularly those that are at risk. We also thought it would be very helpful for the DSC to educate the at-risk population of the dangers that they face on a daily basis, as well as what actions they can take to reduce risk within their communities. We suggested that signage in at-risk areas and at-risk communities would be quite beneficial to the people who dwell within these areas because the signage would inform people of the dangers that they face and what actions they could take to greatly increase their safety from flood threat.

Furthermore, we suggested that the DSC could include information on how flooding would affect drinking water in urban areas in addition to the small communities within the Delta system. We surmised that measures could be taken, in preparation and precaution of flooding, upstream of where the floods would actually occur, and how this could be done through improved levees, restoration of wetlands, and dedicated flood plains.

Going into this I had the naive notion that the main issue with water in California had to do with people not understanding the value and scarcity of this resource, or how its distribution can positively impact particular communities and lands, but that is not our only predicament at all. The system of water usage and storage in our state is very unsustainable, and we cannot continue without doing an incredible an inconceivable amount of damage to our ecosystems that are dependent on having a sufficient amount of water flow through them, such as our Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. 

On March 2nd, I made a public comment during a State Water Resources Control Board meeting asking them to finish the Bay-Delta Plan, a plan that would result in increased water flow through the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta, reducing the harmful algae that plagues it, as well as bettering the environment as a whole. In addition to the environmental and biological benefits of the Bay-Delta plan, it would also improve the potential for recreation in the Delta, as well as the overall health of people that live within the historically redlined communities of the Delta. To my understanding, the State Water Board plan is stagnant, and they have chosen to trudge through with the completion of the Bay-Delta plan for decades, so that they may accommodate those who desire control of the water within the Delta.

I’m very grateful and passionate about the opportunity that I haven’t given in this internship because I am learning a great deal, and there’s much more to learn. I am very excited to complete the work that needs to be done.

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