Friday, February 17, 2006

Water Quality & Flood Protection

As this story from yesterday’s Bee reminds us, water quality is crucial for living things, but in their delicate balancing act the Bureau of Reclamation, which regulates the water releases from Folsom Dam, only has so much water to play with in its continuing work to leave enough room in Folsom Lake for run off that might cause flooding, while retaining enough for drought conditions that can come virtually any year.

So, when we discuss the importance of building a major new dam on the American River to protect the integrity of the Parkway, it would also have beneficial results further down, in the Delta.

Here is an excerpt.

Hard line drawn on Delta water
Two agencies are ordered to stop violating salinity standard.
By Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff WriterPublished 2:15 am PST Thursday, February 16, 2006

State and federal agencies were ordered Wednesday to stop violating water quality standards in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a ruling that could mean more water flowing out of reservoirs to benefit fish and less water exported to Southern California residents.

The California Water Resources Control Board imposed a cease and desist order against the state Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operate separate water export systems in the Delta and numerous reservoirs in the Sierra Nevada.

The order is unprecedented, marking the first time the board has stood firm to enforce a salinity standard in the troubled Delta, after granting compliance extensions for more than two decades to its fellow government agencies.

"We think this is historic in that it is making clear that the standards must be met, and I think that's a big deal," said John Herrick, an attorney for the South Delta Water Agency, which sells water to farmers in the south Delta and argued in favor of the order. "We think this sets a new tone."

The water projects operated by DWR and the Bureau of Reclamation collect water from throughout Northern California for storage in state and federal reservoirs, then pump it south through the Delta.

These massive diversions have altered water quality in the Delta because the fresh water released from the reservoirs often isn't enough to dilute the salty ocean water that flows in from San Francisco Bay. The saline water reduces crop productivity for Delta farmers and harms fish habitat.

Biologists have identified water exports as a possible culprit in the plunging populations of four fish species in the Delta, including the threatened Delta smelt.

"It really is a historic decision," Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, said of the order. "In itself it may not save the Delta, but it will be one of the crucial mileposts on the road to restoration."