With all of the recent media attention on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, it would be easy to assume that Delta issues are new to the public discourse. The fact is problems in the Delta have been building for decades and state and federal policies have failed to successfully address the situation.
The declining state of the Delta is a major concern for areas in the Tri-Valley region, where as much as 80 percent of the water supply comes through the Delta.
As a Northern California native and a farmer, I know from firsthand experience that we cannot address water issues one at a time. And as a member of the seven-person Delta Stewardship Council, I am pleased to report that the state is now developing a comprehensive approach to address Delta water issues from multiple perspectives.
State legislation established the Delta Stewardship Council to develop a Delta Plan designed to meet the co-equal goals of protecting and enhancing the Delta ecosystem and provide for a more reliable water supply for California, in a manner that protects and enhances the Delta as an evolving place.
These are admirable goals. But are they achievable?
The Delta Stewardship Council recently received the final in a series of six staff drafts of the Delta Plan, which proposes both policies and recommendations to meet the coequal goals.
Staff describes it as a "common sense approach, based on best available science." It is about
The draft Delta Plan calls for reduced reliance on Delta water by all Delta water users. It encourages diversification of water supplies, increased water conservation, improved Delta conveyance, and expansion of groundwater and surface water storage.
Reducing reliance on water from the Delta makes a lot of sense. Using water more efficiently is especially smart.
I found a few more indications of the common sense approach. For example, the plan recommends reducing the pollution and non-native species that ruin Delta water quality and ecosystem.
It also suggests improving public safety by increasing areas where floodwaters can flow without damaging people or property. The plan also recommends against building homes in high-risk floodways, and improving levees to protect the communities already located there.
"Co-equal goals" means the two goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem. The coequal goals shall be achieved in a manner that protects and enhances the unique cultural, recreational, natural resource and agricultural values of the Delta as an evolving place.
I have no doubt that some people will find problems with the latest staff draft of the Delta Plan. That is to be expected when public policies are considered.
However, we don't have the luxury of waiting this one out while the "perfect" solution is invented. There is no perfect solution.
We can only make informed decisions based on the best science, guided by law, to arrive at a series of actions that will be regularly monitored and evaluated for effectiveness.
As a matter of fact, the Delta Plan not only identifies performance measures, it calls for modifying actions as needed if objectives are not met. Yes, one more example of common sense.
Speaking of "best available science," scientists agree that the Delta is in decline, and that left unchecked, the ecosystem will continue to deteriorate, some levees will fail and a significant portion of the state's water supply will be at risk.
Clearly we must take action now to set long-term programs into motion, and we must begin working toward short-term solutions right away.
Randy Fiorini, a Turlock area farmer and former director of the Turlock Irrigation District, was appointed to the Delta Stewardship Council by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010 and serves as vice chair.