Temporary Green Light in the Delta

In our December 31 blog, we equated the Sacramento River Delta to a traffic intersection. When the light is red, water doesn’t flow to cities and farms, and instead flows along its natural course to the ocean – thus keeping conditions relatively normal in the ecosystem. When the light is green, water flows to cities and farms, but things can get pretty messed up in the Delta’s ecosystem. Water is flowing in unnatural directions and confusing migratory fish.
As reported by Bettina Boxall on page AA4 of last Saturday’s LA Times (www.latimes.com), federal judge Oliver Wanger “temporarily lifted pumping curbs designed to protect salmon migration.” “Temporarily” means for 14 days, the light will be green for cities and farms. Why now, from the same judge that had ruled in previous cases in favor of environmental protection?
The timing is very important. We have heard news stories of swollen rivers and flood control channels, including editorials calling for increased capture of storm water to be used as a drinking water source. It’s winter now in California, and we finally have some rain and snow. The State’s often-dry rivers are moving huge quantities of fresh water to the ocean, where it instantly lost to any human use. High flows like these can be devastating to the environment, sweeping fresh water species into the ocean, breaking natural stream barriers, and causing floods of riparian habitats. But the “environmentalists” are always fine with such destruction, because it’s “natural.”
But even the judge in this case recognized that this is the time of opportunity: there’s way more water available than the ecosystem requires. It’s time to collect those excess flows and divert them to storage for use later in the year by cities and farms – and even the environment! The hardware of the State Water Project is designed to capture water from exactly these types of high flow events. Allowing 14 days of pumping later in the year would not yield much water, and could potentially cause significant harm to the environment. Thank goodness the judge granted this opportunity at this time.
And here’s hoping that we’ll get a few more opportunities later this Spring, so that the storage reservoirs south of the Delta – notably San Luis Reservoir, but also Castaic Lake, Pyramid Lake, Silverwood Lake, and Lake Perris – can be refilled. The main source of water for all of these reservoirs is water that is pumped from the Delta. A single 14-day window will help a lot at this time, but it is hardly sufficient to handle a full year – especially after a few years of drought.
For now, the people with the green light – cities and farms – are happy. But the people with the red light – most notably the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service – are upset. For them, the light must always be red to cities and farms, and they will continue to sue in federal court to keep the light red. That’s right: a federal agency will sue in federal court to deny water to California cities and farms, thus dealing a death blow to the largest industry in California – agriculture – and thereby continuing to pummel our State’s battered economy – AND using our tax dollars to do so!
Remember Ronald Reagan’s quote: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’ ”

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