The Bay Delta Conservation Plan took a dramatic turn last week, acknowledging some of the concerns of Delta farmers by re-routing a proposed massive tunnel system to affect a smaller area and stay mostly on public land.
That the concerns of those who live in and rely on the Delta are being acknowledged as valid is a welcome change of pace. But the whole process still sidesteps the main point: It is folly to keep trying to take water from where it occurs naturally and send it to places where it doesn’t.
Southern California and the Central Valley are, by nature, deserts. Trying to keep them lush and fertile by relying on dwindling supplies of Delta water disregards the lessons of Mother Nature.
For a prime example, look no further than the Owens Valley, which decades ago was raided of its water by Los Angeles. Today, Owens Lake has become a lake bed and Mono Lake is a mess because more water continues to be taken out than can be replenished.
If less snow in the Sierras and less rainfall in general is a trend, it seems probable that the Delta will have less water flowing into it than in the past. The idea that it can be tapped in the same way as it has been — or even more so — bodes badly for its ecological health.
It’s time to stop trying to siphon off Delta water and start focusing on other ways of getting water where it’s needed. Start with conservation. Those who live in a desert shouldn’t expect to have grassy green lawns or grow water-intensive crops.
Desalinization — removing salt from seawater — is another promising option, given the state’s long coastline. Yes, it’s still prohibitively expensive, but if more effort were put into developing it, the price would come down.
And what about developing more water storage, so that the rain that does fall can be captured before it runs into the ocean? In recent years, some have proposed building underground storage systems rather than dams, and that seems like a great idea. But building a pair of 30-mile-long, $25.7 billion tunnels to divert water around the Delta does not.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg was right on Friday when he said that the new route for the tunnel system announced last week doesn’t get at the fundamental problem.
“What really needs to be discussed and resolved are the operating conditions for the Delta over the next five decades,” Steinberg said.
The Legislature needs to re-engage, he says, and make sure all of the key players have a voice in what happens.
It’s also critical to have the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office study the project. It’s the public’s best chance for an objective assessment of costs and benefits — if there are any.