Death of the California Delta?

Let’s start by contemplating a few figures: In California, agribusiness is estimated to consume more than 80 percent of the surface water. The biggest users are the cotton barons of the Central Valley, like the Boswell corporation, who employ Hispanic laborers to drench a desert landscape with more pesticides than anywhere else in the world. (The Central Valley now has the worst air quality in America).

Where is all the water coming from? The San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary to the north, through a couple of massive pumping stations that not only suck in millions of fish eggs and larvae but also drain the freshwater needed to support aquatic life. Once the most ecologically rich estuary in North America, it’s now probably the most endangered.

Striped bass were brought out here on the early transcontinental railroad in 1879 and flourished for more than a hundred years. Today, populations of newborn stripers are at their all-time lowest (see my Los Angeles Times article and new book Striper Wars for more on this). Delta smelt and Chinook salmon are already on the federal endangered species list. Even the base of the food chain, the plankton, has crashed.

So how can the California Department of Water Resources possibly justify its proposal to dramatically INCREASE the water exports? This new plan was developed, as NRDC recently reported, “in closed door negotiations with a few powerful water users that excluded the environmental and fishing communities.”

On June 29, a diverse collection of fishing groups came together to oppose the water diversion increase. As Whitey Rasmussen of the California Striped Bass Association put it, “If I had just one gift to leave my grandchildren, it would be a healthy Bay and Delta, with its once-great runs of salmon, sturgeon, American shad and striped bass, along with its vast expanse of fertile wetlands restored.” (See also the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance Web site.)

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who touts the environment as one of his major concerns, needs to know that we won’t stand for the collapse of the Bay-Delta.

Posted by Dick Russell at July 13, 2005 11:02 AM