There is no doubt that the Delta needs help; the largest freshwater estuary in North America is in severe environmental crisis and its ecosystem is crashing. But legislative proposals to address this crisis need to recognize and respond to the third fundamental component that is also part of the statewide interests in the Delta: the Californians who live in the Delta.
Disenfranchising the people in one geographic area of our state in favor of those in another should not be the policy of our government. The Delta region – including its agriculture and ecosystem – must also be permitted to thrive.
Californians should remember that the changes proposed for the Delta will last for generations and will have a lasting impact on the lives of the 4 million people who live in counties in the Delta. The Delta community must be included in governance of the Delta. There will be severe impacts to the Delta, its economy and its residents by converting hundreds of thousands of acres of land from farms to habitat, by the failure to address the Delta’s deteriorating levee system and by communities being sliced up, separated by a proposed new ditch the size of the Panama Canal.
The Delta’s residents deserve the attention of state lawmakers just as much as other communities that receive water in other parts of the state, and as much as the effort to restore the Delta’s ecosystem. All three are equally important.
There are three critical elements that must be included in a Delta legislative plan to make sure Delta communities are part of the solution:
• First, governance must include the Delta. Representatives of Delta communities must have a significant presence on all the governing bodies for the Delta. Without that representation, decisions will be made that will affect generations of Delta region residents without their participation. No other area of the state is governed by a separate body without significant local representation on it, and the Delta should not be governed without local representation, either.
• Second, Delta residents deserve protection for their own water supply and quality, as plans are being made to protect the water supply and quality of other Californians. We know that the fresh, high-quality water in the Delta is a statewide resource necessary for the well-being of many Californians and it keeps the environment of the Delta healthy. The simple fact is that promises have been made to deliver more water from the Delta than the Delta has the capacity to fulfill. The health of the Delta and the well-being of Delta residents must have equal billing with other statewide needs. That means that only surplus water – water not needed by the Delta itself – should be considered for export to other parts of the state. This has been state law and water policy for decades and should not be altered by this proposed legislation.
• Third, there must be a guaranteed funding stream that ensures all of the proposed Delta solutions can be implemented. That means that a comprehensive Delta program must be developed that fairly and completely deals with all Delta issues, including providing mitigation funds for Delta communities that are harmed by these proposed changes to the Delta.
Nothing could be worse than going forward with significant Delta projects that don’t have a funding source to be used by Delta communities to mitigate this harm. The millions of people who live in the five Delta counties deserve to know that there will be enough funding to protect them.
The Delta is more than a plumbing fixture with an ecosystem problem. It is where we live, work and raise our families. The Californians who live here should have a say in their future, and because Delta communities can’t be separated from the Delta ecosystem and water, no solution will be successful without our involvement.
No matter what the legislature or the governor do with new laws, if the Delta community is not a vital and meaningful part of the solution, it will not work. It is a common failure of government to ignore what happens when plans devised in committee rooms are actually implemented. Without our involvement in designing solutions to Delta problems, unpredictable and unintended results will be the outcome. The legislature and the governor can prevent that by making it a priority to have Delta communities involved in any new Delta plans, and they should.
Co-authored by Mary Nejedly Piepho, Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors; Mike McGowan, Yolo County Board of Supervisors; Don Nottoli, Sacramento County Board of Supervisors; Michael J. Reagan, Solano County Board of Supervisors; Larry Ruhstaller, San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors.