A Rich History in the CA Delta

In her blog, The California Spigot, Patricia McBroom writes about efforts in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to resurrect a long human history of living and farming in this watery  heartland.  Descendants of Gold Rush immigrants still live there, watching the waterways and maintaining the levees, as they have done for 150 years.  Their agricultural livelihood is threatened by political forces that want to build huge tunnels under the Delta and return large tracts of farming land to original marshland.  Now, leaders and scholars in the Delta are moving to stitch together the historical and prehistorical narratives that shaped the area, hoping that wider public recognition will help preserve their tenure on the land.  Applications have been submitted to the Federal Government for a National Endowment for the Arts grant and for recognition as a National Heritage Area site.  If  Congress approves legislation, it would be the first such NHA in California.

From the article:

The area deserves the best we can do,” said (Robert) Benedetti (professor of political science at University of the Pacific in Stockton). “This is our Jamestown.  From prehistory to industrialization, the Delta is the place that held California in its infancy.”
Along the winding waterways are the remnants of a river culture that barged food, coal and other products from Sacramento to San Francisco for more than 50 years from 1850 to the 1930s. Before them came Native Americans, a large population who thrived for thousands of years in California’s rich Central Valley, including the Delta.  It is a history, however, that is still mostly unknown, scattered in archives throughout the state.  Efforts are now being made to bring it together and none too soon.
But, while public awareness of its history and new recreational opportunities are certainly needed in the Delta, these things alone can not counter the threats to agricultural viability there.  Agriculture is by far the most important economic engine in the Delta, and it is being challenged from several directions. 
To read the whole article, click here

Patricia McBroom on Public Trust Doctrine Lawsuit over California Water

Patricia McBroom, in her blog, The California Spigot, has published an article (March 23) on how environmental groups have filed a potentially revolutionary lawsuit based on the “ancient doctrine” of “public trust” to challenge the privatization of water rights in the Sacramento Delta. The suit is against California’s water agencies: the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and the Department of Water Resources (DWR). The environmentalists charge that water officials have violated the public trust by allowing so much water to be pumped out of the Delta that fish and wildlife, aesthetics, recreation and water quality are being damaged or destroyed.

From the article:

Basing a lawsuit on the ancient doctrine [of public trust] is rare.  Only a few have been won, but when they are successful, a public trust case transforms the relationship between private and public interests in regard to natural resources.  Such a ground-breaking decision was made by the California Supreme Court in 1983 to preserve Mono Lake near Yosemite. The Court ruled that the Los Angeles Water District had to stop taking water from the streams that fed Mono because the lake was being irreparably damaged by the diversions.  The current delta lawsuit is based on that decision.

As it has evolved since Roman times, the doctrine preserves certain waterways for use by the public, setting up a fundamental right that cannot easily be restricted by private ownership.  Such rights include use of lakes, streams, tidal lands and other natural resources linked to water.
To read the whole article, click here.

Patricia McBroom reports on the build-up to the soon-to-be-released Delta water plan

In her blog, “California Spigot,” Patricia McBroom (a member of the CSA’s Steering Committee) has an extensive current post on the build-up to the release, expected in mid-February, of the State of California’s new plan for the Sacramento Delta. McBroom reports on the actions by a coalition of environmental groups to influence the report by means of a joint list of recommendations.  From the blog:

Thanks to new cooperation by the environmental community, the Council now has strong support for several very important goals. Among the most important of these is a call to restore adequate flow to the Delta estuary and reduce the State’s reliance on Delta water for human uses.

In the past decade, high levels of upstream and downstream use of this water have crashed the ecosystem, caused the near extinction of several species of fish, reduced salmon runs to near zero, sent pollution levels soaring and caused all manner of scary ecological changes.  But the extent to which restricted flows in the Delta caused the collapse or can lead to its recovery is a source of intense disagreement. Water contractors and growers have pushed to retain the same high levels of use they had before the drought of the past three years, while Delta ecologists and supporters argue that use should be cut dramatically – up to 50 percent in some scenarios, from 6 million acre feet (MFA) per year of exported water to roughly 3 million.

To read the entire report, click here.

Patricia McBroom reports on how locals maintain crucial levees in the Sacramento Delta

CSA Steering Committee member Patricia McBroom has a eye-opening piece on her “California Spigot” blog today about how locals in the Sacramento Delta take responsibility for maintaining levees that are crucial not only for their own survival but also for the water supply of the state. At the same time, McBroom reports that the locals feel left out of state planning for the future of the Delta.

From the blog:

This story about Bradford [where locals had stepped in to repair levee damage caused when a freighter struck the levee] is sadly illustrative of a larger phenomena that affects everyone in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  California relies on local people to maintain levees that are critical to our water supply, yet those same people are all but invisible to State officials planning a huge – and expensive – project to divert water from upriver near Sacramento.  We will get our first view of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) next month in a preliminary draft release, but several things have been clear about this plan for at least a year.

One, it has little or no input from Delta people or their elected representatives in the five county region – Sacramento, Stockton, Contra Costa County, Yolo and Sonoma.  Thirteen members of Congress and the State Legislature from those counties sent a protest letter last month which said in part “The Delta community has long been told….they will be involved in decision–making about the future of their own communities, even though they have been mostly excluded to date.”

To read the whole blog, click here.