Keep working on water

State must do something to save the Delta

Because the State Legislature spent so long haggling over a budget this year, it ran out of time to resolve another important issue, the state’s looming water crisis and the deterioration of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

When the session ended in early September, lawmakers had not completed work on a package that, while far from perfect or even complete, contained proposals that would have improved the health of the Delta.

These included new oversight agencies to monitor implementation of the package; allocation of $1.2 billion for levee repair and economic development; an upgrading of groundwater management statewide; and a statewide reduction in water use of 20 percent by 2020.

It also contained a so-called “alternative conveyance device”—aka peripheral canal—to be paid for with bond money.

As it stands, the package is better than nothing—but seriously flawed. For one thing, it will take a decade or more to replumb the state, and voters are unlikely to want to pay for it anyway. A faster, more cost-effective and job-producing approach would be to focus on state-of-the-art conservation, especially in agriculture; more effective groundwater management; and implementation of water-recycling and stormwater-recapture targets, especially in Southern California, where huge amounts of rainwater run off into the ocean because there are no systems to capture and store it in existing aquifers.

The idea that we can engineer our way out of the problem ignores reality: Because of climate change, all of California, including the north, will have less water in coming years. We have to learn to live with it and save the Delta in the bargain.

That said, we’d like to see work continue on a water package. We urge Gov. Schwarzenegger to call a special legislative session to that end. We’re now in the third year of a drought; it’s clear that we can’t put off acting any longer.