California has spent more than $10 billion on water projects that are contributing to the death of San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento Delta -- a special report
By Patrick Porgans and Lloyd Carter
While Californians were held captive waiting for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature to agree on spending cuts and adopt a budget, state officials were throwing hundreds of millions of dollars down the drain and compounding California's water crisis.
Water officials have wasted more than $10 billion and 35 years in extended delays in their failed attempt to carry out their legal mandates to protect the waters of the state and restore the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary. The result: water quality in the estuary is rapidly declining; fisheries are in crisis; and the proposed solution, an $11 billion bond act set for the ballot in 2012, will only make things worse.
The primary source of the water-quality crisis is a toxic mix of salt and chemicals discharged from lands irrigated by subsidized water delivered by the federal Central Valley Project to contractors farming on the arid west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
The salt comes from several sources. Irrigation water — particularly from the delta, where the water is somewhat brackish — contains salt. There also is salt and traces of much more toxic selenium in the soil. Industrial fertilizers add more dangerous chemicals to the mix. And since crops grown in the Central Valley don't absorb much salt and the constant flushing with irrigation water leaches the selenium out of the soil, a nasty stew starts to build up.
This U.S. Geological Survey map shows a plan by federal and state regulators to divert toxic water more directly into the Sacramento Delta. All these diversion plans ignore the fact that poorly drained land isn't suitable for farming.
If the irrigation water isn't drained off, the salt buildup in the groundwater renders the land unusable to farming. In essence, farmers have been dumping the runoff water — laden with salt and selenium, along with mercury and boron — into the San Joaquin River, which carries it back into the delta and the bay.
All this is being done as the government declares its intent to save the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary. Read more.. http://www.sfbg.com/2010/11/16/delta-death
Down on the farm
How state water policy wiped out farming and fishing on one delta island
PHOTO BY REBECCA BOWE
Sherman Island may barely register for motorists traveling over the Antioch Bridge and through the delta on Highway 160. Almost wholly owned by the Department of Water Resources, the roughly 10,000-acre patch of Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta flatland is barely developed, and probably home to more cows than people. It lies at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, where freshwater mixes with the salty seawater of the San Francisco Bay.
What isn't obvious at first glance is that Sherman Island was once host to highly productive agriculture — but as delta water quality diminished, farmers saw their crop yields plummet. Larry Del Chiaro, who formerly headed the Sherman Island Landowners Association, used to grow asparagus, wheat, barley, safflower, milo, hay, and other crops on the island. But today, like nearly all the others who previously raised crops there, he no longer has property there and has moved on. His story illustrates how California water policies have benefited one group while affecting the livelihoods of the people who live in the state's central water hub, the delta.
"I was a third-generation farmer on the island," Del Chiaro told the Guardian on a hot August day in the city of Pittsburg. "My grandfather started it. My father, his brothers, my cousins were all on the island farming." Del Chiaro majored in soil science in the 1970s and was interested in increasing crop yields, so he set up test plots and was closely monitoring their progress.
With the help of consultant Patrick Porgans and a San Francisco attorney, Del Chiaro and the 26 other Sherman Island landowners sued DWR for damages. In 1991, the state settled for $3.6 million, and the farmers were paid for not drawing water out of the delta. Soon after, DWR bought up the island. Once the water agency took control, it eliminated the need for DWR to satisfy contractual obligations to provide freshwater to the Sherman Island farmers. The farmers had cleared out, and the agency's problem was solved.
How California exports water
Did the great California drought of 2009 really happen?
11.16.10 - 6:56 pm | sfbg |
By Patrick Porgans
In 2009, the last year of the so-called great California drought, a strange thing happened: Sacramento Valley growers produced a near record amount of rice, and down south, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Met), the largest urban water supplier in the nation, experienced record-breaking water sales. All this despite repeated mainstream media accounts in 2009 of an economy-wrecking dust bowl water shortage.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the California rice harvest in 2009 was up 9 percent from the previous year and approached the record crop of 2004.
Rice consumes a great deal of water for its dollar value and produces little net income. According to a report by the University of California, Davis, the minimum amount of water required to grow a crop of rice is about 42 inches per acre. Unavoidable losses can add to this amount — so that the amount of water consumed (or evaporated) can be as much as 100 inches per acre, depending on the soil. That appears to be enough water to drown the tallest person on earth.
The California Rice Commission, a trade group representing 2,500 rice farmers, estimates that rice uses 2.2 million acre-feet of irrigation water yearly, about 2.6 percent of the state's total water supply. According to records obtained from Met, that's equal to the annual average water it supplied to all of its 19 million customers. Read more http://www.sfbg.com/2010/11/16/how-california-exports-water