Swimming upstream

A local water meeting produces many concerns, few answers

What a difference a year makes. This photo of Irvine Finch landing on the Sacramento River in Glenn County was taken in March 2011. See photo below for comparison.

What a difference a year makes. This photo of Irvine Finch landing on the Sacramento River in Glenn County was taken in March 2011. See photo below for comparison.

Photo By Tom gascoyne

A water forum, hosted by 3rd District Assemblyman Dan Logue and two Republican Assembly cohorts, Jim Nielsen (Gerber) and Bill Berryhill (Ceres), packed the Chico City Council chambers Friday, March 23, with local farmers, environmentalists and politicians.

The forum was another step in the ongoing effort to gather information from the public and explain where plans stand as far as distributing the state’s water to its users—fisheries, farmers and urban dwellers. But the overlying message seems to be that there is not enough water in this state to quench the needs of all.

Also on hand were the mayors of Chico, Oroville and Biggs, Butte County Supervisor Bill Connelly, Glenn County Supervisor Leigh McDaniel and representatives from a host of state water agencies, including the State Water Resources Control Board and the Delta Stewardship Council.

The struggle is between farmers who need irrigation water and environmentalists and fishermen seeking water to maintain endangered fish populations. Oh yeah, and then there are those pesky urban folks.

Urban water use in California amounts to about 8 million acre-feet per year. Environmental uses—that is, for fish and wildlife—drain another 26 million acre-feet annually, and agriculture uses up to 35 million acre-feet per year. Of that, 5 million acre-feet flow back into the ground or into streams and rivers.

On average, California has a lot of water. The problem is that 75 percent of the rain and snow falls in Northern California, but 80 percent of the water demand comes from south of Sacramento.

In order to move that water, the state and federal governments have created the largest and most elaborate water transference systems in the world, the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) and the State Water Project (SWP). The CVP begins with Shasta Dam; the SWP starts with Oroville Dam.

Water from both passes through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to be pulled out by giant pumps near Tracy and sent down the massive California Aqueduct.

This photo was taken on March 24, 2012.

Photo By photo by tom gascoyne

But the transfer systems are flawed: Delta fish species are disappearing, salmon populations are crashing, saltwater is being pulled inland, and the Delta is in distress.

Assemblyman Logue, in his opening statement, pointed out the obvious: “Water is one of the most important issues we will face in the next 20 to 30 years.”

Neilsen mentioned the state’s 2009 water plan, which includes restoring the Delta, and said the rights and interests of Northern California have to be protected from “a state water czar.”

Berryhill, whose district includes the northern end of the San Joaquin Valley, said it was important that water flow to the farmers there because “California feeds the world now with the most environmentally sound products. This is always a challenge and we look forward to having the fight.”

Kurt Miller is a member of the Delta Stewardship Council, which was created by the State Legislature in 2009 to come up with a plan for “co-equal goals.” Those goals include protecting the Delta and moving water for the benefit of the rest of the state.

“At this point, everything seems to have gone into a black hole,” he said, adding that the council should have another draft of the plan by mid- to late-April.

Connelly said that while Butte County has an interest in making the Delta better, “We can’t support efforts that jeopardize our water. Butte County has lots of agriculture and relies on surface water.”

He said the county is ranked 17th in the state for agricultural production and has some of the last salmon and steelhead runs left in the state.

Chico Mayor Ann Schwab echoed Connelly, noting that Chico relies on groundwater from the Tuscan Aquifer and that if the rate of extraction exceeds the rate of input that will have an affect on the surface water local farmers use.

“Chico is dependent on groundwater, and we need adequate supplies for private industry to survive,” she said. And with that she pulled from a shopping bag a package of Lundberg Farms rice, a bottle of R.W. Knudsen juice, and a six-pack of pale ale from the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

“We need to protect our water first,” she said.