As local irrigation districts that draw from the Delta-Mendota Canal have had their water allocations reduced by 80 percent this year, it’s clear that state and federal officials must come up with an immediate solution, and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is the best bet.
At the same time, state officials must scrutinize that plan to ensure that it is cost-effective and does not cause undue harm to our neighbors to the north while resolving West Side water woes.
The conservation plan entails building a $14 billion two-way tunnel system that would bore under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, bypassing its southern reaches, where endangered fish are often trapped and killed at a federal pumping facility near Tracy. It sets out to increase fish populations and restore more than 100,000 acres of natural habitat.
For West Side farmers, it’s clear time is of the essence. State officials have stressed that water reliability for contractors with the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project are likely to get worse within the next few years. That’s not to mention that many of the dams and water conveyance systems throughout the state are in bad shape and may falter if an earthquake or flood came along.
During Bay Delta Conservation Plan process, though, it’s imperative that the state look at all the options on the table. Those should include a proposal by several environmental groups that advocated for a smaller diversion facility in the north Delta and separate, scaled-down water storage in the south Delta.
Environmentalists have argued that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan would ultimately harm the Delta’s ecosystem by depriving its lower reaches of fresh water, allowing an intrusion of salt water. Farmers who pull water directly from the Delta have also protested the plan, claiming any degradation of their water supply could cripple the area’s billion-dollar agricultural industry.
There’s no sense in creating a project that will benefit some farmers at the expense of others. If the state determines that the tunnels are the best way forward, it must create firm mitigation measures to ensure that farmers and wildlife are protected.
With so much money and so many potential environmental impacts at stake, the state must get this project right.