Water Transfers from Northern California to the South
The thriving success of California’s abundant agricultural production and state wealth was achieved because people wanted to realize their dreams in the Mediterranean climate of a state that was committed to move water to where it was needed. The primary sources for much of this water comes from northern California, the Colorado River and local regional aquifers. Unfortunately, uncertainties run high for water availability in California. California has more variability in rainfall from one year to the next than anywhere else in the U.S. You can imagine the infrastructure needed to store and move so much water. In order to accomplish this, water distribution in California has built manmade infrastructures as well as utilize natural flow paths that are provided by the hydrology active across its land.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is a very important component of California’s water distribution system and, at the same time, the largest inland estuary on the west shore of the North American continent. A Delta of such beauty and bounty is certainly a very uncommon use for such a sensitive waterway. Enormous volumes of water are pumped from the Delta and sent to southern destinations for agricultural and municipal uses. The result of the increase in pumping and other society induced impacts have produced an unhealthy condition for the diverse aquatic life in the Delta.
A safer way to transfer water without the acute impacts to migrating pelagic fish was first proposed in the 1980s and then again in the 2000s. It was thought that diversion of Sacramento River water, before entering the Delta, would avoid unhealthy impacts to the aquatic life of the Delta. This could be accomplished through a large canal or tunnel. The problem with this strategy is the overall flow of water into the Delta would be significantly reduced. This can cause a variety of changes in the natural setting that impact a spectrum of water quality, temperature, nutrient and habitat conditions. Diminishing populations of aquatic life, like Salmon, even has its effects on the indigenous people living in California. I guess you can say it turns the estuary on its head.
Well, it also turns the California lifestyle on its head. California now has 40 million people that need certainty that their water demands will be met every day. In addition, California agriculture is truly a bread basket of food for California, for the U.S. and even many countries around the globe. No matter how you look at it, moving water through the Delta is controversial. How can you satisfy all of today and tomorrow’s water needs and wants while safeguarding a thriving Delta. Climate change and an increasing California population rule the roost when water strategies are considered. New management approaches are needed.
Today, California's Governor, Jerry Brown, has been supporting the construction of two thirty five mile long underground tunnels that would divert water under the Delta. The proposed projects are named, Water Fix and Water Ecosystem. Both of these projects, when combined, are an attempt to correct ecological and safety issues while, at the same time, provide more certainty for water deliveries across the state. Well you guessed it, nobody can agree on the best project. The proposed project was recently reduced in size from two underground tunnels to one tunnel but conflicts and confrontations continue. Disputes occur because water has many responsibilities as it travels to the ocean and these activities overlap and precede other users that rely on a moving water supply. One of the most difficult tasks in California today is to navigate the many hurdles that are presented by municipal, agricultural, industrial, recreational and environmental interests. Currently, agreements between groups, individuals and water stakeholders are limited and usually contained within groups of common interests.
When deciding on redistribution of unpredictable volumes of yearly water and melted snow, you can be sure water stakeholders hold a lot of anxiety. More water is great but less water or a degraded quality is a water user’s greatest fear. After all, water is life.
Viewpoints of many water stakeholders are focused on their gains first with none to minimal concern for other viewpoints, at least until their needs are met.
- California produce, dairy and meat consumers don’t realize their vulnerability to losing an important source of food. Because of this disconnect, balanced views regarding water diversions for agriculture are not actively voiced and supported by the public.
- Farmers are perceived as wasting water, across the board. This misconception may be true in isolated cases but many farms use best management practices.
- A common perception by many people is: “Water that reaches the ocean is wasted water.” This view point is a misconception that doesn’t recognize the many processes that water participates in as it flows to our oceans. A wedge between Delta communities and other water users has resulted from this misconception.
- High value, high water intensive crops, like almonds, are demonized. Measures of success are created by each water stakeholder according to the value that water has for their personal beneficial use.
- A significant portion of Delta water quality issues are caused by non-point pollution. This is seldom brought into the conversation regarding water quality issues of the Delta. Furthermore, omission of other unrelated impacts are not adequately addressed.
- California citizens are not committed to permanently reducing their water foot print. This was recently seen after the past five to six year drought in California and the post recovery period. We are good in making short-term changes but long-term changes are still problematic.
- Opposing parties don’t trust each other and view each other as irresponsible. Interactions are emotional, frustrating, irritating and, in many cases, unfair and disrespectful. The hard questions are rarely addressed with sincerity and authentic concern.
Operation Unite® Can Help
Operation Unite® is a hands – on, results - oriented, capacity building initiative that engages Stakeholders and the Impacted Public in solving water problems thereby building Public responsibility for generated projects. Operation Unite® can help resolve this water dilemma.
It’s all about relationship.
“It requires reflection, intention, and actions. It requires intellect, but it also requires insight. And it requires heart and compassion and empathy, including empathy for each other in addition to our beloved Stakeholders and species.”
Felicia Marcus, Chair of the California State Water Resources Control
Board, Dec. 8, 2016, Maven Notebook
Operation Unite® has a relationship building program that connects diverse and scattered populations through common values and a common goal; reflection, intention and actions. This program strengthens respect and responsibility between communities. Trust is earned.
Operation Unite® has already put its teeth into this issue. Developing relationships with stakeholders began in 2009 and has evolved as events and public responses occurred. Interviews and round table discussions were performed and radio programs produced. Meetings were attended and feedback always offered. Operation Unite® has explored many water relationships that are present in this California Water dilemma. Below are some relationships that Operation Unite® is developing:
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
Farmworkers in the Central Valley
Joe Delbosque Farms
Community Food Bank, Fowler
Fresno County Farm Bureau
California Fish & Wildlife
Santa Clara Water District
Mayor of Mendota, California
Neil Jones Food Company, Fireball, California
California Latino Water Coalition
Nisei Farmers League
University of California, Irvine/NASA on GRACE
Sportfishing Protection Alliance
Restore the Delta
Farmers in the Delta
San Joaquin Farm Bureau
Chairman, Delta Stewardship Council
California Central Valley Flood Association
North Delta Water Agency
Haggin Museum in Stockton
Corp of Engineers
California Delta Chamber of Commerce
University of the Pacific, Economics
Oceanographer, Moss Landing, California
Winnemem Wintu People
Metropolitan Water District
Pat Mulroy, Southern Nevada Water Authority and Las Vegas Water District
Felicia Marcus, California Water Resources Control Board
Civil Engineer in the Delta
San Joaquin Exchange Contractors
San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority
Westland Water District
Fresno Board of Supervisor
Riverside Farm Bureau
Los Gatos Tomatoes Producers
Public Policy Institute of California
California Department of Water Resources
U.S. Geological Survey
Proof is in the pudding. The Operation Unite® Relationship Building program has already jump started with ten years of engagement. Imagine what can now be accomplished.