Water, water everywhere

August 1, 2012

California has been suddenly thrown into one of its perennial water wars, this time with a revived proposal to build a pair of 37-mile tunnels under the Delta to transport water to users and farmers across the state.

If you’ve been following the news, it’s a a bit of an environmental crapshoot. The tunnels are supposed to spare Delta critters of the harmful effects of the current system of pumps, which have greatly altered the ecosystem. Yet, many conservationists don’t want a more efficient method of removing water from the Delta, as low water levels are arguably the biggest problem that the estuary faces.

Gov. Jerry Brown has thrown his support behind the tunnel plan, calling it  “profoundly important to California’s future” and “a big idea for a big state.”  Already in the hot-seat with environmentalists, Brown’s eco-credentials were again called into question this week when he opined that:  “I’ve never seen a CEQA exemption that I don’t like.” CEQA is the California Environmental Quality Act, the state’s landmark environmental law that’s been invoked to block many development projects that intrude on important habitat. Apparently CEQA is just in the way when it comes to those two tunnels (and a football stadium in Los Angeles, and the bullet train from Sac to LA).

Meanwhile, a San Francisco supervisor has introduced legislation that would help developers install water recycling systems in buildings, which would lower the city’s water use and sewage discharge. As we wrote in this story, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission installed such a system in its new headquarters with the hopes of saving 5,000 gallons a day.

Looks like water recycling is needed as climate change takes hold.  A series scientific studies commissioned by two state agencies found that California faces a harsh future in warmer world. Heat waves, severe fires, strains on the electrical grid, and, yes, water shortages are in our future. Less snow in the Sierras means less water during the year. And fresh drinking water and ag water from the Delta are in jeopardy because of rising seas.

Good thing that UC Berkeley physicist and leading climate skeptic Richard Muller finally came to his senses and blames humans for causing climate change. Better late than never?

In other news:

  • Sea level rise is washing away archaeological sites in places like Point Reyes National Seashore. [KQED]
  • Lake Tahoe debates more commercial development on its recreational lands. [Capitol Public Radio]
  • Deal to keep Benicia’s state recreation area from closing faces uncertainties. [Bay Citizen]



About the Author

Alison Hawkes was a Bay Nature editor from 2011-2017. Before Bay Nature she worked in journalism for more than a decade as a former newspaper reporter turned radio producer turned web editor with each rendition bringing her closer to her dream of covering environmental issues. She co-founded Way Out West, a site dedicated to covering Bay Area environmental news.

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