New path on California water must include Delta communities

By Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Special to CALmatters

Editor’s note: This commentary is a response to “Finally, a new path toward managing water, rivers and the Delta,” March 19, 2019.

Delta advocates agree about the need to break out of our silos. And we all agree, the Delta is an amazing estuary, and a vital water supply source for the state.

But any new path on California water must bring Delta community and fishing interests to the table. We have solutions to offer. We live with the impacts of state water management decisions from loss of recreation to degradation of water quality to collapsing fisheries.

For example, how can new and improved technology be employed to track real time management of fisheries?

State Water Resources Control Board members have suggested camera technology to track fish in real time. That’s an idea we believe is worth pursuing. We also see opportunities to investigate the possibility of re-engineering the Delta Cross Channel Gates using bubble curtains for fish.

Can satellite technology better track water use and movement of fisheries and wildlife along our waterways and connecting lands? All these proposals are worthy of exploration.

However, any agreements for moving blocks of water from Northern California to State Water Contractors via the Delta should involve the impacted parties.

To date, not one party from the Delta has been invited to observe, let alone participate in, the voluntary settlement agreements. How, when and from where this water is moved has impacts on the Delta watershed and its tributaries and connected groundwater basins.

How can we determine if this is a good or bad idea if it is negotiated in secret? State Water Contractors have a history of keeping impacted parties out of the room. This needs to end.

Water is habitat for fisheries and it doesn’t flow in blocks. When and how it is released from or withheld in dams, in addition to its volume, alters flow conditions for fisheries.

Regulatory standards for water transfers, flows, and water quality are not old-fashioned notions to be simply done away with for some arbitrary, non-measurable standards of water quality and water quantity in the Delta. Knowing and measuring on-the-ground conditions is essential for improving Delta management.

Now that Gov. Gavin Newsom has altered Jerry Brown’s twin tunnels proposal, let’s restart this process and bring all stakeholders to the table. That’s how a democracy is supposed to work.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla is executive director of Restore the Delta, [email protected] She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.

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