No more watered down excuses (by Michael Fitzgerald)

The article below expresses the feelings of many who have observed the Delta’s decline over the last ten years. Mr. Fitzgerald is referring to the California Water Resources Control Board draft report released last week which states that the amount exported is MUCH higher than what can be exported and still have enough water for the Delta to be healthy for fish and wildlife.

No more watered down excuses

By Michael Fitzgerald Record columnist July 23, 2010 12:00 AM

State water officials are the San Joaquin Delta’s most destructive invasive species. Amazingly, at long last, they have concluded Delta fish need more water.

A lot more. Water users are taking twice as much from the Delta as they should, the state has been forced to admit. In so concluding, they indict themselves.

This is big. This is not some environmental group saying Delta fish need more water. This is not a scientific panel easy to ignore. This is the state of California itself.

The very state that brutally exploited the Delta, from its dam-it-up mentality of the 20th Century to the send-it-south policy persisting to this day.

But now, lo, the same 2009 water package that may enable a peripheral canal, or tunnel, required the State Water Control Resources Board to rise above the special interest politics that have long compromised state water policy to the point of ecological insanity and to scientifically answer the question: How much water do Delta fish need?

How much water is necessary to keep the Delta alive?

Big Ag and south-state urban users long ago figured out how much they want to take; remarkably, though, nobody in state water agencies ever figured out how much they ought to leave.

How much more have they been exporting than is biologically sound? How bad is their betrayal of the public trust, the deliberate neglect of their duty to steward the Delta’s natural resources for all, including future generations?

Any attempt to quantify the volume of wrongly exported water will be rough. Flows and exports vary with wet years and dry, and other factors. So most reports use percentages.

But I want to go with numbers. Even rough numbers paint a picture.

So. The 100-year average amount of water moving through the Delta is about 29 million acre feet a year. The takers take about 15 million acre feet a year.
To restore the Delta, they have to cut their take by half, the report says, and let 75 percent of rivers flow during certain times.

If they did, the amount returned to the rivers would be (again, roughly, as the reductions are seasonal) 7.5 million acre feet a year.

Meaning, over the last 20 years alone, the amount of water they have wrongly taken – the amount the state allowed them to hog – is, at the high end of estimates, enough to fill 22-mile-wide Lake Tahoe to its capacity of 39 trillion gallons, with enough water left over to fill giant New Melones Reservoir at its current level almost five times over.

A staggering sea of water.

You can quibble with the math. But not the minimum flow requirements.

With this minimum number, we now have a metric for the greed, a yardstick for the cynical indifference, a scale on which to weigh the state’s betrayal of the public trust.

And this time the science compiled by the state is not something Sean Hannity can spin away. It agrees with data an army of experts has provided the state again and again over decades at hearings.

But Republican governors, instead of acting responsibly, quashed scientifically sound and crucial recommendations to benefit Big Ag and Southern California cities.

Big Ag, which helped corrupt the state water regime, predictably has come out swinging.

“The draft Delta Flow Criteria Report is a purely theoretical exercise with no application in the real world,” bellowed the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority. “Any attempt to apply these findings would be devastating.”

Correction, sirs: The devastation is already well under way in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Which is more than just a sponge to wring.

While this report is a welcome injection of reality, its conclusions are not binding. The restoration of Delta flows, though right and necessary, is inconceivable. If the Sacramento River runs at 75 percent, where’s the water for the Peripheral Canal?

Expect politics to distort the outcome. State officials call it “balancing.” I call it a kinder, gentler betrayal of the public trust.

Only now none can deceive. They can’t pretend fulfilling excessive water contracts – promising to deliver more water than exists – and restoring the Delta both are feasible goals. They can’t say we’ll all get better together.
The facts are out. They’ve taken up to 7.5 million acre feet too much, three New Meloneses of water, every year for decades at the Delta’s expense.
The truth may not be a game-changer. But now, at least, the game is better illuminated.

“Now we can say, ‘If you want to kill the Delta, at least be honest about it,’ ” said Bill Jennings, head of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at (209) 546-8270 or Visit his blog at

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