All the hubbub about high-speed rail, health care and the supreme court have made it difficult for any news about water to bubble to the top of the news food chain. So, we'll get you up to date on one water story you might have missed in the past couple of weeks.
The latest study on California's Bay-Delta was done by the National Research Council in an attempt to see how the co-equal goals of attaining a reliable water supply and rehabilitating the ecosystem could be achieved. Once again, like other studies done before, there is no way to identify one stressor or even list in any order a number of stressors as the main problems. The study names a number of stressors (problems) such as "loss of habitat, invasive species, nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations, water project operations, dams and water flow."
As you know if you're a farmer or if you read our newsletter, we've been trying to point out to the people doing the studies and other scientists that we are acutely aware of other stressors. In particular, we've tried to ratchet up the awareness of wastewater treatment problems in Sacramento dumping ammonia into the Delta and killing fish that somehow has been blamed on farmers. We've tried to point out that the predator striped bass eats salmon and smelt, but the Department of Fish and Game won't up the 2-fish limit on catching them. Once again, farmers get blamed for killing these fish while the bass get away with murder.
We've pointed these problems out in the past, but the only solution they have ever come up with is cutting water to farmers. They admit they can't name one particular stressor, can't list in any order a number of stressors, and can't seem to find a way to find the answer other than more studies. Here's a newsletter we wrote in February of last year: They Finally Admit They Don't Know. This was in response to the Delta Independent Science Board's conclusion that there were over 40 stressors in the Delta, but "ultimately, the scientists said they could not conclude that any one factor, or any small combination of the 40-plus factors, is the root of the Delta's problems."
So, while scientists keep on studying and saying they don't know, there's one thing we do know for sure. Despite the inability to name water diversions to farmers in the Central Valley as the main problem and even an inability to list it as the number two or three or four ranking problem, we know water deliveries will be cut once again. They can't pin it on us, but they continue to take the water anyway. This is like being put in jail for 20-years while the prosecution tries to find the evidence against you.
National Research Council: Integrated Strategy Needed for Delta
Lisa Lien-Mager/Association of California Water Agencies
With multiple factors affecting fish and habitat in the Delta, efforts targeting a single stressor are not likely to reverse species decline, a committee convened by the National Research Council concludes in a comprehensive review released March 29.
The much-anticipated report makes it clear that a multi-faceted, integrated approach is needed to understand what’s happening in the Delta and improve the ecosystem and species.
“Many environmental factors, including water diversions, affect the structure and functioning of biotic communities in the Delta,” the report said. “Although it would be convenient if one or only a few of these factors could be identified as the source of the ‘problem,’ or even ranked with some certainty, it is not possible to do that.”
Interactions among stressors and ecosystem processes make it difficult to isolate and evaluate the effects of a single stressor, the report said. In addition, the ecosystem and its components do not necessarily respond as a unit to most environmental factors.
Loss of habitat, invasive species, nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations, water project operations, dams and water flow are among the stressors cited as putting a strain on the Delta. Addressing these stressors collectively provides a better opportunity for recovery, according to the report.
Adding to the challenge is a reluctance to “confront the reality that water is scarce,” the report said. Though water scarcity (defined as not having sufficient supplies to satisfy all demands) has always been a fact of life in California, the magnitude and intensity has grown over time and continues to grow as demands increase.
“The failure to acknowledge scarcity as a fact of life and to craft water plans and policies to address scarcity has made the management of Delta waters far more difficult than it needs to be,” the report said.
In addition to recommending more integrated and coordinated planning in the Delta, the report calls for additional study in several areas related to water and environmental management. Though science is necessary to inform actions and decisions, it cannot decide which choice is the best policy. Societal, political and economic considerations also must be part of the equation.
“The committee concludes that the lack of explicitly integrated comprehensive environmental and water planning and management results in decision making that is inadequate to meet the Delta’s and state’s diverse needs, including environmental and ecological conditions in the Delta,” the report said. “In addition, the lack of integrated, comprehensive planning has hindered the conduct of science and its usefulness in decision making. Lack of transparency exacerbates these matters and erodes public trust.”
While more effective planning is being developed, the state should utilize both demand-side and supply-side management tools to make water supplies more predictable. Continued investment in monitoring, modeling and other research will be essential, the report said.
National Research Council report.pdf
NRC press release.pdf
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