California Dream 2.0

Saving the “Endangered” Delta while growing California’s economy

It made the front-page of the San Francisco Chronicle when the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta was recently ranked No. 2 among America’s most-endangered waterways in a report from the Washington, D.C., organization American Rivers. Quoting the American Rivers report, The Chronicle said: “The Delta is ‘extremely vulnerable to catastrophic failure’ from over-pumping and declining ecosystems.” 

Delta Vital To Californians

The Delta is one of California’s most important natural resources, in a number of ways. Millions of Californians depend on it for a large portion of their water supply. It provides a wide range of environmental benefits, from wildlife habitat to recreation. The Delta also drives a significant share of the state’s economy, in agriculture, industry, fishing and recreation.

Everyone agrees: the Delta is vital to California, and it’s in trouble. The question is, how do we fix the Delta’s problems in a fair and equitable manner that’s best for the state’s economy?  That’s the mission of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), a long-term collaborative project among a state and federal agencies, water districts and environmental organizations. I participate as a member of the BDCP’s Steering Committee.

BDCP: A Balance Between Water Supply and Environmental Needs

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan intends to balance the health of the delicate and endangered ecosystem with demands on that system for water supply in a way that’s best for California’s economy. Essentially, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is a permitting process. State and federal environmental laws require water projects that convey water from northern California to the rest of the state to obtain permits to operate in the Delta. Those permits will be issued only if a viable plan is established that limits impacts to threatened and endangered wildlife.  

The BDCP aims to ensure that sufficient flows are left in the Delta to create and maintain a healthy ecosystem.  If the Bay Delta Conservation Plan helps to establish a more sustainable level of water pumping from the Delta, Californians could create “a clean tech water challenge to replace the California water wars.”

Clean Tech Innovation for Water Efficiency

EDF’s 2009 Innovations Review featured several companies that are already helping farmers and businesses conserve water. One company, PureSense, founded by third-generation Central Valley farmer Matt Angell, markets a relatively simple product that tells farmers how much water their crops really need. The Wine Group, based in the San Joaquin Valley, says it increased yield three years in a row by 20 to 60 percent while reducing operating costs by 15 percent after installing a PureSense system. 

Another company, Hydropoint, gathers data from thousands of weather reporting stations and then wirelessly transmits watering instructions to controllers installed on customers’ irrigation systems. The 16,500 subscribers to Hydropoint’s data feed saved 11.3 billion gallons of water and $75 million in 2008, according to the company. Customers include Coca-Cola, Lockheed Martin, Google, Apple, Wal-Mart, more than 50 cities and towns, and seven of the 10 largest real estate investment trusts in the U.S. 

These are just two of many examples of new innovations and business practices that could flourish in California if the Bay Delta Conservation Plan crafts a scientifically-credible plan to end California’s over-reliance on this unique and spectacular natural system. That’s our goal and I’ll be back in future posts to report on our progress.

Posted in Ecosystem Restoration / Comments are closed

Gulf Oil Spill: What’s Needed Now

 On Sunday, Channel 5/KPIX-TV political reporter Phil Matier asked me if the Gulf Coast oil spill will be “President Obama’s Katrina.” That depends on what the president and Congress do next. The disaster’s vivid projection by the media into every home, workplace, and public space in the country presents a unique opportunity for the president and Congress to demonstrate leadership on two fronts:

As oil continues to seep towards the Gulf coast, a huge priority must be placed on protecting and restoring the area’s most valuable asset, the wetlands. The wetlands of the area are what hold the ecosystem together, and without them, much of the area’s islands and protective shore will be lost to sea. This exposes the people of New Orleans to greater risks from hurricane damage, and undermines the fabric of life that supports birdlife and seafood, including half of the nation’s shrimp, 35 percent of its blue claw crabs and 40 percent of oysters. This is a major body blow to the Gulf’s fishermen, who are leading on innovative programs to fish sustainably. Fishing has been placed on hold in the area, and no one knows for how long. And now the valuable properties along Florida’s prized beaches are also at risk. 

The tragedy holds a number of lessons for California. First, we need to prioritize restoring the Bay-Delta ecosystem that provides water for millions of California families, farmers and fishermen and critical habitat for hundreds of species of birds, fish and mammals. Only 10,000 acres of the original 350,000 tidal marsh acres remain in the Delta and Suisun Bay system. Chinook salmon and other fish are rapidly dwindling, leaving thousands of fishermen out of work. This is a warning signal that something is seriously out of balance in the ecosystem, and we shouldn’t wait for a major disaster to begin to repair it.  Restoring the wetlands that historically lined the Bay-Delta system must be prioritized.  

Second, the Gulf Coast oil spill catastrophe is another reminder that America must transition to clean energy.  It won’t happen immediately, but we’ve got to start now by passing a strong clean energy and climate bill. Here in California, we must stave off efforts by out-of-state oil companies to roll back our clean energy law, AB 32. Governor Schwarzenegger is to be commended for his recent decision to prevent new drilling off the Santa Barbara coastline.  He recognized that the risks didn’t justify the rewards.

As the nation recovers from the oil disaster and considers its energy future, California can lead by example in restoring our own Bay Delta ecosystem and in the choices we make towards a clean energy future. Now President Obama and Congress must act quickly to protect the Gulf’s wetlands and the vital ecosystem services that they provide and set the nation on a course to produce clean, safe and renewable energy.

Also posted in Clean Energy / Comments are closed