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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus
Chapter Chair's Column

Guest Editorial

Governor Brown brings new hope to end Delta "water deficits"
June 2011

Most Californians know of our State's budget deficit, but did you know that we have been running a "water deficit" in the Delta?

Right now, 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 state, federal, and local water agencies, state and federal 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 Governor Brown—and his subsequent appointment of Jerry Meral as Deputy Secretary to head the BDCP process—brings hope of a new, more transparent and honest process. Previously, most environmental groups did not have a seat at the table because that seat came with a heavy price tag, that is, agreement to support new conveyance like a peripheral canal—an unacceptable solution to most of us.

State and federal agencies agree the Delta water is overpromised and overburdened. The State Water Resources Control Board recently found that California needs a 75 percent increase in net Delta flows in order to protect public trust values, beneficial uses, fisheries and water quality in the Delta. Even more gravely, the Department of Interior's most recent report to Congress regarding the impact of climate change predicts that already scarce water supplies in the western US will probably dwindle further causing problems for millions in the region.

It is obvious that "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. Sierra Club is 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 California such as stormwater recapture, water recycling, and increased groundwater banking.

—Jim Metropulos, Senior Advocate,
Sierra Club California

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