Balancing Ecosystem Health, Water Reliability and Home
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is unlike any other place in California. Along with being the hub of the state’s water delivery system, the estuary is home to more than 300 species of wildlife – 29 of which are threatened or endangered, dozens of historical communities and hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland. The fertile peat soil of its islands annually produces $700 million in agricultural crops and its ecosystem supports the commercial salmon industry on the West Coast. The Delta is all at once an element of water infrastructure, a critical ecosystem, a statewide economic engine, and home to 500,000 people. Balancing those identities is the challenge of regulators, water managers, biologists and others.
How much water can be pumped out of the Delta for delivery south to cities and farms every year depends not only on the amount of snow and rain in the Sierra Mountains, but also on the condition of the Delta’s ecosystem and fisheries. For three decades, regulators have increasingly restricted deliveries in an effort to protect endangered species in the Delta, including the Delta smelt. Metropolitan understands that water supply reliability cannot improve without also improving the health of the Delta’s fragile ecosystem.
The Delta Conveyance Project is one part of the solution to help improve water supply reliability. But that alone won’t fix the Delta. Nor will simply releasing more water into the estuary. The Delta was once a vast marshland covered with tules and teaming with wildlife. In the mid-1800s, settlers built levees to drain and reclaim the land and today about 95 percent of the original wetlands and floodplains are gone. In this highly altered environment, non-native species have thrived, over-running native species. Striped bass, Asian clams and many other invaders, large and small, are either eating the native populations or the foods on which they rely.
Addressing these environmental challenges will take science-backed solutions, solutions that Metropolitan is helping research, in collaboration with state and federal agencies. It also will take partnerships with all the diverse interests in the Delta.