California Forum

Here’s how Metropolitan Water District can be good Delta neighbor

Delta interests are concerned about the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California buying islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Delta interests are concerned about the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California buying islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Sacramento Bee file

Now that Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has completed its $175 million purchase of four islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, totaling almost 20,000 acres in size, it is time to engage in a discussion of how Met can be a good Delta neighbor.

Delta interests are rightly concerned about the presence of Met in our midst. The overpumping of the Delta by water contractors, led by Met, has had a negative impact on Delta water quality for farms and wildlife. The proposed twin tunnels, largely advocated by Met, will have monumental negative impacts on Delta communities and farms near the construction sites, and will create a massively expensive infrastructure that could only be paid for by the continuation, and perhaps even the acceleration, of the overpumping from the Delta. This is contrary to state law, which requires a reduced reliance on water from the Delta.

It’s also worth noting that the proposed twin tunnel alignment passes through two of the four islands that Met has just purchased. This serves to facilitate the disastrous twin tunnel project, part of the Delta plan that a Sacramento judge recently ruled invalid.

Met gets the benefit of the doubt that it has not yet decided the use of the four islands, as claimed in court proceedings. With the purchase complete, Met’s attention will certainly focus on how it will use this new asset to advance its interests in the Delta.

With or without the tunnels, it is certainly possible that Met’s use of the islands can either do no harm or even be positive for the Delta.

For starters, Met could agree to pay its taxes and assessments, which are necessary for local governments (both counties and reclamation districts) to ensure continued road improvements on these islands and improvement to the critical levee system. As a public agency, Met is not obligated to pay all of these amounts. As a good and responsible neighbor, Met certainly should.

Met should also agree to participate as a member of the Delta levee community, acknowledging that Delta levees work as a system necessary to maintain levees not only on these four Delta islands but throughout the Delta, and not take actions that would undermine levees on adjoining islands. Delta levees in this area are critical for ensuring movement of fresh water through the Delta to the south Delta export pumps.

Met should adopt the proposed California Department of Water Resources “good neighbor” policies that minimize the impact of restoration projects on nearby agricultural operations. Agriculture is the primary economic driver in the Delta and the surrounding region, and it is critically important that any restoration activity on these islands minimizes the impact on nearby agriculture.

Much of the Delta islands are deeply subsided as a result of their peat soils and century-old farming practices. There are promising methods in the Delta to halt and even reverse subsidence, and Met would have a vast canvas with these islands to test these methods.

Met has the ability to usher in a new beginning in its troubled history with the Delta. With proper management of these properties, Met can advance its own interest in restoring the Delta, sustaining the continued use of the Delta and maintaining the Delta as one of the largest estuaries in the Western Hemisphere.

Mary Nejedly Piepho is a member of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors and chairwoman of the Delta Protection Commission. Contact her at mary.piepho@bos.cccounty.us.

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