Indigestion: Water storage to feed fish, farms, factories, and families

Pelicans-Delta-300x225December 9, 2013

By Charles Gardiner, Executive Director

This is the fourth installment in the Healing the Delta series. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta is the heart of California’s anatomy.  But that heart – and the rest of the Delta’s body – needs nourishment to remain vibrant and healthy.  Unfortunately, we are not feeding fish, families, farms, and factories the right ingredients to grow and thrive.  Our water storage system, the source of health and vitality, is stressed, leading to indigestion and worse.

Delta Diagnosis:

Indigestion.  Drought and flood have always been part of California’s history.  In the 20th Century, California constructed a world-renowned water management system to capture and move water to feed families, farms, and factories and protect lands from flooding.  Built to provide sustained nourishment to the state through six-year droughts, today, the water storage system is stressed such that it cannot feed the state through two to three year droughts.  Dyspepsia is now routine, requiring overuse of bad-tasting corrective measures like that awful pink liquid.

Acid Reflux.  Even if we treat the immediate indigestion, a look to the future doesn’t reveal healthier, more palatable nutrition.  Climate change will increase stress on our water storage systems as storms are expected to be larger and wetter and drought periods drier and longer, while warmer temperatures will reduce water stored in the snowpack and increase demand for water.  Sea-level rise will also demand more water from reservoirs to keep salinity from overtaking the Delta.  California’s water management system is not configured to address these stresses.  Even the purple pill may not prevent more severe stomach problems.

Ulcer.  Left untreated for the past 20 years, indigestion and acid reflux have resulted in far more serious stomach concerns for the storage system.  The critical new focus on increasing flows for fish has placed additional demands on limited storage capacity.  Unsustainable use of important groundwater storage basins in agricultural and urban areas are now resulting in land subsidence and water contamination that have real and imminent impacts on people and property.  The ulcer has already formed, and a new treatment plan is needed.

Without immediate triage and treatment, the ulcer may turn cancerous and invade other parts of the body.  A healthy water storage system is the key to securing and storing the food and nutrients to keep fish, families, farms, and factories happy and healthy through both fat and lean times.

Treatment Plan:

The patient’s condition is urgent and treatable.  Stronger prescription medicine can help us feel better in the near term, but major surgery and a new diet is needed and it must begin now.

Prescription Medicine.  Stronger medicine is needed to manage our water storage system to meet the increasing stresses and demands.  Better forecasting of weather along with flood storage can help use existing surface storage more efficiently.  Additional connections and systems to support groundwater banking can increase our ability to capture and store flood waters.  Immediate local and regional action is needed to identify sustainable groundwater yields and address groundwater overdraft conditions.

Major Surgery.  The endoscopy is done and the diagnosis is clear.  We cannot treat the patient without major surgery to repair the condition.  New storage and retention is needed to capture more water when it is really wet, save it in the ground or in reservoirs, and make it available for fish, families, farms, and factories when the rain doesn’t fall.  It is time to assemble the right surgical team to get the job done.  That team must define when and how the surgery will address the condition.  That is, how will storage be integrated with Delta operations and regional needs to maximize benefits?  Expanding surface storage at Shasta, Sites, and Temperance Flat can contribute to fish, wetlands, agriculture, urban needs, and groundwater recharge, each in its own way, when integrated with system operations.  Other new or expanded storage can also support groundwater recharge and local or regional water needs.

Diet Plan.  Stress on the system is likely to continue or increase after surgery, so a healthy diet plan, with the full commitment of the patient and family, is needed to keep the stomach healthy.  That means legally reliable assurances that new surface storage captures and stores water in wet years (above or below ground) for use in dry years and commitments to ensure that actions to address groundwater overdraft and contamination are not undone by expanding water demand in dry years.

Stay tuned for the next installment with more on the lean diet for the patient.

Healing the Delta series:
Part 3 – IV fluids needed: Managing flows for the ecosystem and economy
Part 2 – The heart of California: Congestive heart failure in the Delta
Part 1 – Holiday hodgepodge won’t help the Delta