The pieces of the political puzzle appeared to be in place in June when top state and federal officials reached agreement on a vision for balancing the Bay-Delta’s competing interests, releasing “California’s Water Future: A Framework for Action.”
The story of the Klamath River is the story of two basins.
In the upper basin, farming has long been the way of life. Even before passage of the 1902 Reclamation Act, settlers had begun the arduous process of reclaiming vast tracts of wetlands and transforming them into rich farmland.
When water and growth was featured in the May/June 1995 Western Water, the debate in the California Legislature was about whether a local water district should have any say when it came to providing water to new developments. Of the four bills before state lawmakers, it was Sen. Jim Costa’s SB 901 that cleared the Legislature and was signed into law. The bill established a voluntary link between water and land-use planning by requiring planning departments to consult with local water purveyors about the availability of new supplies.
The controversy that began nine years ago when the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) was first introduced in Congress continues unabated today. The initial debate over the act itself was played out in Washington, D.C., against the backdrop of a multi-year California drought and the first changes in traditional CVP operations to protect the winter-run salmon.
The West has been transformed in the 150 years since the Department of the Interior was established. What was once a sparsely settled, little known region has become one of the nation’s most populated. And while vast amounts of open space remain, most of the people reside in one of the urbanized major metropolitan centers. Questions of growth and land use, water supply and demand, and natural resource use and protection dominate the political and policy arenas.
Sodium, chloride, magnesium, calcium, potassium, sulfate, carbonate, bicarbonate and nitrate can all be summed up in one word: salt. We can taste it on our skin when we sweat and we add a common variety of it (NaCl – sodium chloride) to our meals to offset blandness. Salts are naturally occurring minerals and are integral to life on this planet.
Developed, but not tamed, the South Yuba River is a hard working yet picturesque waterway. More than a century after the river’s pivotal role in the historic fight over hydraulic mining, the South Yuba is at the center of a modern controversy over flood control vs. environmental protection.
In the world of water, biology and engineering often clash – especially when it comes to resolving the Delta dilemma. How do we manage such an altered system to ensure water supply reliability while restoring the ecosystem? How do we measure the results of efforts to restore endangered species and habitat? Why is biodiversity important?
In January, Mary Nichols joined the cabinet of the new Davis administration. With her appointment by Gov. Gray Davis as Secretary for Resources, Ms. Nichols, 53, took on the role of overseeing the state of California’s activities for the management, preservation and enhancement of its natural resources, including land, wildlife, water and minerals. As head of the Resources Agency, she directs the activities of 19 departments, conservancies, boards and commissions, serving as the governor’s representative on these boards and commissions.
Balance between ecosystem restoration and water supply reliability is key to a Bay-Delta solution. Everyone agrees on this concept. But the demands of the competing interests can tilt the scales. So, too, can the member agencies’ conflicting missions. For more than three years, the joint state-federal CALFED Bay-Delta Program has been searching for equilibrium among the Delta’s complex problems and its contentious stakeholders. In December, it released its latest blueprint for resolving the Delta dilemma — the Revised Phase II Report.
How to recognize the water rights of the past while meeting the demands of the future is the puzzle being pieced together in the California 4.4 process to reduce the state’s use of Colorado River water. It is a major undertaking, one requiring institutional and operational changes to a system dominated by tradition and history.
The face of the Central Valley has changed tremendously in the 150 years since the California Gold Rush. Consider William Brewer’s observations in Up and Down California in 1864-1869: “The San Joaquin plain lies between the Mount Diablo Range and the Sierra Nevada — a great plain here, as much as forty to fifty miles broad, desolate, … without water during nine or ten months, and practically a desert. The soil is fertile enough, but destitute of water, save the marshes near the river and near the Tulare Lake.”
Clean air vs. clean water sums up the controversy surrounding the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), an oxygenate designed to help fuel burn cleaner, reducing tailpipe emissions. Since 1996, the year it was first used statewide on a year-round basis, MTBE has reduced smog from motor vehicles by 15 percent, according to air quality officials. It’s as if 3.5 million cars have disappeared from the roads – no small feat in the automobile – dependent Golden State.
Imagine for a moment a California where the average daily temperature is 5 degrees warmer, where the typical long, dry summer is altered by rainstorms, where winter in the Sierra Nevada brings less snow and more rain and where the Pacific Ocean has risen several feet, forever altering the coastline. It is a future in which droughts and floods could be more severe, unseasonal rain could arrive during a crucial crop or harvest period and levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta could be overcome by rising sea levels.
The quest to determine a long-term “fix” for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary is at a critical juncture. Somehow, the familiar Delta debate must become a Delta decision as agency staff, stakeholders and the general public prepare to analyze the voluminous product of more than two years of study and discussion — CALFED’s Phase II draft programmatic environmental impact statement/report (EIS/EIR).
Fresh from the ocean, adult salmon struggle to swim hundreds of miles upstream to spawn — and then die — in the same stream in which they were born. For the salmon, the river-to-ocean, ocean-to-river life cycle is nothing more than instinct. For humans, it invites wonder. The cycle has prevailed for centuries, yet as salmon populations have declined, the cycle has become a source of conflict. Water users have seen their supplies reduced. Fishermen have had their catch curtailed. Environmentalists have pushed for more instream flows for fish.
Lately here at the Foundation, we’ve remarked that the staff has never experienced a year in which we’ve worked harder yet been more interested and involved in the issues. It’s been quite a year — our 20th! 1997 came in with the great flood on New year’s day and is ending with preparations for El Nino. In between, Western Water updated you on the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, the Lake Tahoe presidential forum, Colorado River Compact issues and, with this magazine, the thoughts of EPA Administrator Carol Browner.
It was a time of great plans and grand visions. The goal was to tame the Colorado River, to protect people from floods and put its waters to work irrigating cropland, supplying new industries and producing hydroelectric power for the west’s booming cities. But before the dream of constructing large water works to further settle the region could become reality, the river’s waters had to be divided.
Lake Tahoe is one of the Sierra Nevada’s crown jewels, renowned for its breathtaking clarity. The high-altitude, clear blue lake and its surrounding basin, which lie on the California-Nevada state line, is a spectacular natural resource that provides environmental, economic, recreational and aesthetic benefits.
Two days before our annual Executive Briefing, I picked up my phone to hear “The White House calling… .” Vice President Al Gore had accepted the foundation’s invitation to speak at our March 13 briefing on California water issues. That was the start of a new experience for us. For in addition to conducting a briefing for about 250 people, we were now dealing with Secret Service agents, bomb sniffing dogs and government sharpshooters, speech writers, print and TV reporters, school children and public relations people.