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