Why Is The Delta In Trouble?
Why Is the Delta in Trouble?
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is under imminent threat. Urban growth, discharge into the Delta by upstream pollution sources, pollution from within the Delta, aging levees, the likely occurrence of an earthquake, and global warming have or will have a negative impact on the environmental health and economic sustainability of the region – especially if these factors are left unmanaged.
However, an even greater threat to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is the current mismanagement of water exports. Since 2000, water exports to Central and Southern California have reached record high levels, doubling in the winter months under the current practices of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the Federal Bureau of Reclamation. This increased pumping has made less quality water available for urban and agricultural use within the Delta region and has contributed to the near extinction of several fish species such as the Delta smelt. Increased water pumping disturbs and destroys supporting habitat and food sources for the smelt and other pelagic fish species (fish that live in open water). Increased pumping also contributes to increased salinity, and greater salinity levels allow for the establishment of invasive species like clams, which, in turn, disrupt the food web for the native fish. Regardles of this situation, state and federal agencies plan to increase water pumping by 27% through the misnamed “South Delta Improvement Project.”
Excessive water exports are pushing the Delta to the verge of an ecological collapse that could have a permanent negative impact on agricultural yields, on the Delta boating and fishing industry, and on drinking water quality for Delta residents. Increased salinity in irrigation water for Delta farmers will lessen the yields of a number of Delta crops; a diminished fish population will lead to fewer fishermen taking to the water; and the continued depletion of fresh water will result in reduced water quality for Delta residents, forcing the need for additional treatment of local drinking water. Thus, excessive water exports are not only harmful to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta’s ecosystem, but have a negative impact on Delta commerce and the public health of Delta residents.
In addition, several statewide efforts led by the Department of Water Resources and the State Resources Agency are underway that could determine the fate of the California Delta. Among these, the Delta Vision Process and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan are extremely important, yet, to date, Delta stakeholders have not been given the regard accorded to water contractors, who seek ongoing assurances for water exports, in the decision-making processes. Restore the Delta believes that Delta stakeholders deserve an equal say in decisions regarding the management of water exports, the protection of species and habitat, and the revitalization and sustainability of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta environment and economy for future generations.