The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
(Delta) is California’s most crucial water and ecological
resource. The Delta is formed by the Sacramento River flowing
south to meet the north-flowing San Joaquin River just south of
Sacramento, where the rivers mingle with smaller tributaries and
tidal flows, and move out into San Francisco Bay.
More than a century ago, farmers began building a network of
levees to drain and “reclaim” what was then a marsh. The lands
were pumped dry and the marsh was transformed into productive
island farms, mostly below sea level.
Today, the Delta is a 700-mile maze of sloughs and waterways
surrounding more than 60 leveed tracts and islands. It is the hub
of California’s two largest surface water delivery projects, the
State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project.
The Delta provides a portion of the drinking water for 25
million Californians and provides the $36 billion agricultural
industry with irrigation to 4.5 million acres.
The Delta estuary is the largest on the west coast of North
America with more than 738,000 acres in five counties. An
estimated 80 percent of the state’s commercial fishery species
live in or migrate through the Delta, and at least half of its
Pacific Flyway migratory water birds rely on the region’s
Travel across the state on Amtrak’s famed California
Zephyr, from the edge of sparkling San Francisco Bay,
through the meandering channels of the Delta, past rich Central
Valley farmland, growing cities, historic mining areas and into
the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
This issue of Western Water looks at the BDCP and the
Coalition to Support Delta Projects, issues that are aimed at
improving the health and safety of the Delta while solidifying
California’s long-term water supply reliability.
This printed issue of Western Water features a
roundtable discussion with Anthony Saracino, a water resources
consultant; Martha Davis, executive manager of policy development
with the Inland Empire Utilities Agency and senior policy advisor
to the Delta Stewardship Council; Stuart Leavenworth, editorial
page editor of The Sacramento Bee and Ellen Hanak, co-director of
research and senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of
This printed issue of Western Water examines the issues
associated with the State Water Board’s proposed revision of the
water quality Bay-Delta Plan, most notably the question of
whether additional flows are needed for the system, and how they
might be provided.
The San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem
needs freshwater to survive. How much water and where it comes
from is a longstanding debate that is flaring up as the state
embarks on an updated water quality plan for the Bay-Delta.
This printed issue of Western Water examines science –
the answers it can provide to help guide management decisions in
the Delta and the inherent uncertainty it holds that can make
moving forward such a tenuous task.
If there is one constant in all the turmoil surrounding
California’s water, it is the pivotal role of science in
decision-making. It is science that seeks to tell us what’s
happening in the natural world and the possible actions that can
be taken to affect change for the better.
This printed copy of Western Water examines the native salmon and
trout dilemma – the extent of the crisis, its potential impact on
water deliveries and the lengths to which combined efforts can
help restore threatened and endangered species.
This printed copy of Western Water examines the Delta through the
many ongoing activities focusing on it, most notably the Delta
Vision process. Many hours of testimony, research, legal
proceedings, public hearings and discussion have occurred and
will continue as the state seeks the ultimate solution to the
problems tied to the Delta.
This issue of Western Water looks at the political
landscape in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento as it relates to
water issues in 2007. Several issues are under consideration,
including the means to deal with impending climate change, the
fate of the San Joaquin River, the prospects for new surface
storage in California and the Delta.
There are multiple Delta Vision processes underway and a decision
on the future of the Delta will be made in the next two years.
Unlike past planning efforts that focused primarily on water
resource issues and the ecosystem, these current efforts are
expanding to include land use planning, recreation, flood
management, and energy, rail and transportation infrastructure.
How – or if – all these competing demands can be accommodated is
the question being considered.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is faced with many major
challenges: land subsidence, deteriorating levees and flood
risks, agricultural sustainability, increasing urbanization,
water supply reliability, ecosystem health, sea level rise,
climate change, and water quality. Confronted with the question
of how to sustain the multiple values/uses of the Delta, federal,
state and local officials, Delta residents, environmentalists,
water agencies and others are working to craft a vision of the
Delta 100 years from today.
This issue of Western Water examines the Sacramento-San
Joaquin Delta as it stands today and the efforts by government
agencies, policy experts, elected officials and the public at
large to craft a vision for a sustainable future.
The Delta has been in the spotlight recently, with a cascade of
tumultuous events that have spotlighted the importance and
fragility of a unique resource that is mostly out of sight and
out of mind to most Californians. Issues of sustainability,
governance, water quality, ecosystem health and levee stability
have reached the forefront in recent months, punctuated by
congressional inquiries and even discussion of revisiting the
proposed peripheral canal that was trumped at the polls more than
20 years ago.
This issue of Western Water discusses the CALFED Bay-Delta
Program and what the future holds as it enters a crucial period.
From its continued political viability to the advancement of best
available science and the challenges of fulfilling the ROD, the
near future will feature a lively discussion that will play a
significant role in the program’s future.
The issues surrounding the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento- San
Joaquin River Delta are as complex and varied as the ecology of
the estuary. Start with the fact that water is a valuable
resource in California that more often than not is in short
supply for the many competing demands. Combine that with a
growing urban sector and the need to maintain an agricultural
industry that is a significant part of the state’s economic
engine. Finally, recognize the environmental impacts from the
development of California, including the diversion of water, and
the obligations to preserve species diversity and water quality.
This issue of Western Water analyzes northern California’s
extensive flood control system – it’ history, current concerns,
the Paterno decision and how experts are re-thinking the concept
of flood management.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta has been described as the
“switching yard” of California ’s water delivery system, moving
billions of gallons that supply the drinking water and irrigation
for millions of people. When stakeholders signed the 1994
Bay-Delta Accord, it was a dual-purpose deal designed to
preserve, protect and restore the ecosystem and increase water
This issue of Western Water examines the extensive activity
associated with the projects and issues related to the Napa
proposal – from increasing the state’s pumping capacity to
improvements in the south Delta to the creation of a lasting
Environmental Water Account to addressing water quality concerns.
As of press time, the proposal was far from finalized, undergoing
review and possible revision by government agencies and
The release of the CALFED Record of Decision in 2000 marked a
turning point in the multi-year effort to craft a Delta “fix”
that addressed both environmental problems and water supply
reliability. How to finance the many components within the plan
and ensure the plan is implemented over the next 30 years is a
The Bay-Delta comprises just 1 percent of California’s total
area, yet is at the heart of the state’s water supply system and
controversies. The CALFED Bay-Delta Program was formed in an
effort to replace conflict and controversy with a common vision
and a plan to “fix” the Delta. For the past two years, CALFED
agencies and stakeholders have begun to initiate many studies and
implement many projects and programs called for in the 2000
Record of Decision and Framework Agreement.
Balance between ecosystem restoration and water supply
reliability is key to a Bay-Delta solution. Everyone agrees on
this concept. But the demands of the competing interests can tilt
the scales. So, too, can the member agencies’ conflicting
missions. For more than three years, the joint state-federal
CALFED Bay-Delta Program has been searching for equilibrium among
the Delta’s complex problems and its contentious stakeholders. In
December, it released its latest blueprint for resolving the
Delta dilemma — the Revised Phase II Report.