Opinion Columns & Blogs

The Conversation: Responses ‘One shot to save Delta’s ecology’

Last Sunday’s Conversation about how plans for twin tunnels in the Delta might benefit the ecology of the estuary was written by Dennis McEwan, an aquatic biologist who works for the California Department of Water Resources. We asked readers the question: Do you think the plan to restore habitat and build twin tunnels to move water south will help correct environmental damage in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta?


Bond measures could fail

Re “One shot to save Delta’s ecology” (Forum, Dec. 1): Dennis McEwan’s opinion glosses over the fundamental weakness of the ecological component of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan: While the plumbing has guaranteed funding by assessing consumers of the water, funds for the ecological component must be raised by California voters approving future bond measures.

If these bond measures fail, California gets the tunnels and the water diversion, but no ecological restoration. Bee staff writer Matt Weiser’s March 28 news story “Bay Delta plan documents reveal details, stir concerns” says, “The new plumbing is estimated to cost $14 billion, to be paid by farm and urban water ratepayers ... via rate increases to repay bonds issued by DWR.”

The story also says the plan calls for converting many Delta islands into restored wildlife habitat. This is estimated to cost $4 billion, which the planners expect all California taxpayers to fund, according to the article.

– Carol Rubin, Newcastle

Two plus two doesn’t equal four

How will diverting more than half of the Sacramento River’s Delta flow to Southern California help restore the wetland habitat?

This article says that today about 3 percent of marshes remain and 23 percent of seasonal wetlands remain. That being said, explain to me how removing more of the river flow for Southern California is going to solve the wetlands problem.

Isn’t the fact that we have already diverted a large portion of water causing part of the existing issue?

A report in The Sacramento Bee states an estimated 18,000 cubic feet per minute will be diverted into the two tunnels. It also noted that the Sacramento River’s flow is about the same. In this case, two plus two doesn’t equal four.

– Frank Besso, Walnut Grove

The great salmon massacre

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan is not the “most realistic plan yet conceived” to address the co-equal goals of ecosystem restoration and water supply reliability, as Dennis McEwan claims.

How will the twin tunnels benefit Central Valley Chinook salmon, steelhead and other fish species when they will only spread the fish carnage from the south Delta to the Sacramento River?

The massacre of millions of fish annually will continue when the south Delta pumps are operating, and the new intake facilities on the Sacramento River will imperil salmon in their major migratory corridor.

The Environmental Water Caucus Responsible Exports Plan is a far superior plan to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. It reduces water exports to no more than 3 million acre-feet per year and brings solutions to California’s water problems, including retirement of drainage-impaired land and increased water recycling and conservation.

– Dan Bacher, Sacramento

Repeating a 40-year-old mistake

I’ve known Dennis McEwan as a state Fish and Game biologist, not as a water policy pundit. I would have been stunned if he had written this shout-out to the Delta “Chunnels” while at state Department of Fish and Wildlife. But now McEwan works for the promoters of the proposed twin-tunnel project, the state Department of Water Resources.

The Delta protection problem is as it was with the peripheral canal 40 years ago. The state Water Resources Control Board was created in the 1960s to establish, among other things, how much fresh water is needed to protect Bay-Delta estuary resources.

The board has been politically restrained from doing its job. Building first and finding out how badly it affects the estuary second was the problem with the peripheral canal. Now it will be the problem with the tunnels.

– Bill Kier, San Rafael

Let’s have a debate

Dennis McEwan’s employer, the California Department of Water Resources, has a lot invested in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

If the project is not permitted, not only will some positions have to be reconstructed, but the Department of Water Resources will have to come up with an alternative to the twin tunnels. Unfortunately for the Delta, no such commitment to a different solution exists at the department.

It would be interesting to put McEwan and Peter Gleick, whose opinion piece ran Nov. 6 in Viewpoints (“Delta project has many unanswered questions”), on the same stage and have them debate their viewpoints.

– Rogene Reynolds, Stockton

Peripheral canal alternative far worse

Too Bad Dennis McEwan did not apply his expertise to changing the peripheral canal, so that it could produce an abundant fishery by creating artificial breeding grounds along the canal. The canal could have been much more versatile in that it would have provided water in several channels to augment Delta flows.

The peripheral canal was proposed because it was recognized that the Delta was being harmed by the current diversions. But environmentalists fought and won an alternative that is far worse.

– Dale Creasey, Fair Oaks

From Facebook

Mike Wade – It’s refreshing to see a balanced article about the problems in the Delta and how solutions need to address multiple stressors, such as inadequate fish screens, predators, water quality and the loss of habitat. Clearly there’s a problem when “only 18.5 percent of young Chinook salmon that were drawn into the State Water Project fish facility survived the process. Most are eaten by predators ...”

It’s time to move past the position that the Delta is OK the way it is. It’s not. And the requirement to provide adequate and dependable water supplies that drive much of California’s economy isn’t going away. As the author says, “the status quo is death to Delta ecology.”

– Mike Wade, California Farm Water Coalition

Jerry Cadagan – No one is saying that the Delta is OK the way it is now. But the tunnels aren’t the answer. What is needed is reduced Delta exports; real fish screens; fattening of Delta levees; and more emphasis on development of local and regional sources of water, particularly recycling.

Mike Wade – Better screens at the south end of the Delta won’t fix the dead end problem for fish. Everyone knows that. Fat levees will do what, improve seismic protection? The tunnels accomplish that and the right fish screens at the north end of the Delta solve entrainment and keep fish on the right migratory path. Jerry, your red herring is just another invasive fish.

Jan McCleery – That article was anything except balanced. The salmon’s issue isn’t predators. When the salmon decline, the bass decline. When the salmon thrive, the bass thrive. Both were doing fine until the exporting amounts went way over the 3 (million acre-feet) level in late 1990s/early 2000s, due to increased acreage and rapid increase of almond production. Urban use remains fairly constant, yet ag use keeps increasing.

And the story that the tunnels improve seismic protection is bogus. First, there isn’t any real risk of levees falling down due to an earthquake. But levees do need ongoing maintenance – to protect the communities, farms, highways and railroads that are in the Delta counties.

Mike Wade – Sorry Jan, your argument just doesn’t hold water.

1) Recent studies show that less than 10 percent of the out-migrating salmon smolts make it through the Delta alive. From 1982 to 2010 the percentage of bass compared to other fish species in the Delta doubled. Over the same period native fish declined from 18 percent to just 4 percent.

2) The overall trend of agricultural water use is down, almost 20 percent less in 2010 than in 1967. While there have been years where exports peaked, they were generally in wet years when there was additional water in the system.

3) Since 1900 there have been 160 levee failures in the Delta, which is more than one per year, on average. Yes they need maintenance. but that doesn’t solve the water supply dilemma for the rest of the state on its own.