Resist the "Bumper Sticker" Mentality: Delta Fix is Part of Getting to a Sustainable Water System

As state and federal agencies gear up to release a public draft of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan later this year, one message bears repeating: A long-term Delta fix is not an option; it’s an essential part of a comprehensive plan to address the state’s water supply needs.

Though headline writers like to fixate on the north vs. south conflict, water managers know Delta solutions are about more than a bumper sticker slogan. Much has changed since the peripheral canal debate of 1982, and everything from our thinking to our technology to our water management strategies has evolved with what we’ve learned in the past 30 years. We know we must move to a more sustainable water system, and resolving ecosystem and water supply problems in the Delta is a key step on that road.

To make a Delta solution work, action is needed on many fronts. Real progress will require a comprehensive suite of near- and long-term actions to equip the state with more agile water infrastructure and more robust strategies for the future.

As the Delta Vision Foundation noted in its recent 2012 Delta Vision Report Card, a set of linked, integrated actions is essential to achieving the coequal goals of a more reliable supply and improved Delta ecosystem. Specifically, actions in the following areas are vital to success:

  • Conveyance improvements that reduce conflicts between the environment and water project operations. These improvements, in concert with habitat restoration and actions to address other stressors, will allow the projects to operate for the coequal goals.
  • Increased investment in local resources development. Raising the bar on local and regional efforts on water use efficiency, recycling, groundwater management and other strategies will promote regional self-sufficiency and reduce reliance on Delta exports, particularly in dry years.
  • Expanded storage capacity, both above and below ground. Developing additional storage, whether through conjunctive use, increased surface storage or both together, will help make conveyance work in ways that increase diversions in wet years and decrease diversions in more sensitive dry years.
  • Watershed management. Improving the way we manage watersheds and integrating those activities with floodplain management and water supply efforts could yield significant benefits for both watersheds and water users.

Many of these concepts are emerging as a “BDCP Plus” plan for broader discussion and consideration as we move forward with comprehensive solutions.

Another concept gaining attention in recent weeks is the value of implementing near-term Delta projects while longer term actions continue to be shaped through the BDCP process. A diverse coalition of stakeholders recently compiled a list of more than 40 Delta projects with broad support to improve levees, restore habitat, protect Delta residents from floods and enhance water supply reliability. Given the mounting list of challenges facing the Delta, we shouldn’t wait to move on these projects.

The next few months promise to be a lively time in California water.  It will be critical to remember that we can solve the state’s water problems only when we act as one state. Working together – and resisting the north vs. south bumper sticker -- offers our best opportunity to move forward with the integrated actions required for a reliable water system.