By Charles Gardiner, Executive Director
This is the third installment in the Healing the Delta series. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta is the heart of California’s anatomy. Water, the lifeblood of our state’s world-renowned ecosystem and leading-edge economy, flows to and is pumped from the Delta estuary. The Delta is the heart of a water management system that connects the great Sierra Nevada and its winter snowpack, the major river systems of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, and the tidal push from San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The Delta feeds the most productive agricultural land in the world and our rich and productive commercial and sport fishing while fueling the economic engines of southern California and the Bay Area.
The lifeblood of California is not sustaining the heart of the system or the organs and extremities that keep the body healthy and growing. At critical times, the pulse is weak and the energy is low.
Anemia. In some years, the blood supply to the heart is deficient and the heart isn’t getting what it needs to function properly. In these years, the heart can’t support other vital organs and extremities. In most instances this is caused by forces beyond the patient’s control, but our current exercise program places extra demands on the heart when anemia is at its worst. When California’s rainfall is anemic, as it has been in the last two years, everyone expects that the heart can continue to function as a 20-year-old and meet all needs. Instead, we need to take the pressure off when demands are greatest.
Undernourishment. Both the heart and the body of California are undernourished by the blood flow to and from the Delta. Additional, healthy flows are needed to rejuvenate the Delta ecosystem and reinvigorate California. The challenge is how find and manage these flows when California’s rainfall varies greatly from season to season and year to year.
IV Fluids. Immediate action is needed to increase fluids in the system. Two near-term actions can provide intravenous fluids to improve heart and body health—water transfers and reservoir reoperation. The Governor has already called for efforts to expedite water transfers that can ease pressure on certain areas that face significant water shortages. Better weather forecasting capabilities developed over the last 20 years can increase the flexibility of flood management and water supply reservoirs to store and manage water. An immediate prescription is needed from both the Federal and State Administrations to accelerate implementation and ensure that increased flexibility is used for both the ecosystem and the economy.
Transfusion. In the long-term, the prescription for the anemia California experiences in dry years is to change how California manages water. Since the major water supply and ecosystem conflicts in the Delta occur in dry years, our water management system must take this pressure off to allow the ecosystem to recover while supporting the state’s economy. That can be achieved by moving toward a “more-in-wet, less-in-dry” management strategy, in which we capture and store more water in wet periods when it is truly surplus to the needs of the environment and divert less in dry years, when the ecosystem suffers the most.
Tune in for future installments on storage, retention, and regional water management that expand on this prescription.