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Vol. 17  No. 21 Final Edition
Clovis Free Press

January 29, 2001
The Water Crisis!
Following On Heels of The Energy Fiasco
By Howard Hobbs Ph.D. Valley Press Media Network

      CLOVIS -- The California Legislative Analyst's Office is calling on the State Legislature to address water problems in the state's Sacramento Delta area. The Legislature established the Environmental Water Account last month with the objective of acquiring water for endangered species protection and recovery and to hold this water in reserve to use when endangered species need it most.
      The goal is to reduce the likelihood of fishery agencies placing new restrictions on the operations of state and federal water projects that could reduce water deliveries to agricultural and urban users.
    The EWA program concept, and a number of important policy and operational issues remain unresolved, however. Until these problems have been resolved, it is premature to establish the program. The costs and benefits of and the program's impacts on the water transfer market and groundwater resources. The appropriate state role in EWA, particularly in terms of funding. Operational issues including governance, acquisition and use of water by EWA, and scientific review.
     The Editors of the Clovis Free Press recommend that the Legislature hold oversight hearings to evaluate the proposal for EWA. If the Legislature approves the concept, we recommend that legislation be enacted to create the program and to specify how the program will be governed, funded, operated, and held accountable.
     Funding should be governed by the "beneficiary pays" principle; the Legislature may also wish to consider enacting a tax credit to encourage donations of water to the account. In addition, statute should require scientific peer review of EWA as well as monitoring of the program's impacts.
     In order to facilitate the transfer of water for EWA purposes, we recommend that the state's water transfer laws be clarified and updated. Water Problems in the Bay-delta Over the years, a number of interrelated water problems have developed in the San Joaquin Delta Estuary.
     These problems include deteriorating wetland water quality, declining fish and wildlife populations, eroding levees, and uncertain and unreliable water supplies.
     To address these problems, a collaborative state-federal process called the Bay-Delta Program was formed. As one of its many proposed solutions to Bay-Delta water problems, it recently began to implement a program referred to as the "Environmental Water Account" (EWA).
    . The Bay-Delta is a 700 square-mile region of waterways, sloughs, and islands where the San Francisco Bay meets the state's two largest rivers Sacramento River and San Joaquin River.
     The Bay-Delta serves a number of important purposes, each of which depends on the quantity and quality of water in the area. Specifically, the Bay-Delta supplies some or all of the water needs for two-thirds of the state's homes and businesses and over 7 million acres of agricultural land. Water moves through the Bay-Delta's system of canals and channels, and is transported to cities and farms in the Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley, and most of Southern California by the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project.
     The region's productivity as an agricultural region depends on many flood protecting levees and freshwater releases to counter the intrusion of seawater. In addition to its role in supplying water for agricultural and urban uses, the Delta is perhaps the state's most important fishery and wetlands wildlife habitat.
     The ecological health of the Delta is dependent on a certain quantity and quality of water being used for "environmental" purposes, such as for wetland habitats and fisheries. In fact, the most recent California Water Plan Update--a planning document in which the Department of Water Resources projects water supplies and demands--explicitly recognizes the environment as the largest user of water in the state.
     The ecological health of the Delta is substantially impacted by the operation of the water supply infrastructure, which includes dams and pumps that pump water from theDelta to the aqueducts for transport to other geographical areas. Over the past many years, this diversion of water from the Delta, together with other factors such as water pollution, has resulted in the deterioration of the ecological health of the region and reduced the region's role as a fish and wetland wildlife habitat.
   As a result, fish and wildlife populations have declined to the point where some species have been classified as threatened or endangered under state and federal endangered species acts.
To protect fish populations and their habitat, water deliveries from the Delta for urban and agricultural users have had to be curtailed. For example, in the spring of 1999, both SWP and CVP significantly reduced pumping of water in order to reduce the number of Delta smelt (a threatened species) killed as a result of being sucked into the pumps.
    While alternative water supplies may be available, such as drawing down reservoir supplies. However, reducing reservoir supplies to low levels can adversely impact the quality of the remaining water in the reservoir.
    It is clear that
two problems--declining fish and wildlife populations and unreliable water supplies are not being appropriately addressed.
     We feel that more details on the proposed governance structure should be provided to the Legislature. After closely examining the proposal, the Californai Legislature should statutorily specify the governance structure. We think that the Legislature should consider assigning management responsibility to a smaller, rather than larger, number of entities to create a more efficient and accountable decision making process. Thus, p
    At recent congressional hearings on Central Valley water management, some legislators expressed concern about the lack of scientific peer review of the EWA proposal.
     We feel that a scientific panel could serve an important role in determining such fundamental matters as how much water should be in the account to protect fish species and should evaluate the effectiveness of EWA in improving endangered species protection and recovery and water supply reliability.

Letter to the Editor

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