San Joaquin River DOTMDL -- Technical Working Group

Expectations for Delta fix may need to be lower

Stockton Record - August 12, 2005
By Dana Nichols

Expectations for Delta fix may need to be lower
Stockton Record 8/12/05
By Dana Nichols, staff writer

SACRAMENTO -- Leaders and scientists charged with healing the Delta warned Thursday that the public may have to lower its expectations of what can be done to resolve the region's water supply and environmental woes, including the recent catastrophic decline in Delta smelt and young striped bass.

"The expectations are out of control because we started off on the wrong footing," chemist Wim Kimmerer, an adviser to the California Bay-Delta Authority, told a meeting of the authority's board.

The Authority is a state agency that manages the CALFED program, a joint state and federal effort to restore the Delta's environment and secure the safety of its water supply. CALFED is one of the world's largest environmental restoration projects, originally expected to cost billions of dollars over 30 years.

The deal that formalized CALFED's goals in 2000 promised a "balanced" program that would keep the peace between farms, cities, water interests and environmentalists. The idea was that Delta wildlife would get better at the same time as the drinking water supply for 22 million Californians.

But that idea is crumbling in the face of a deepening environmental crisis and state and federal budget cuts. And the Authority is in transition after its director was replaced in May, and the new chief, former Department of Water Resources second-in-command Joe Grindstaff, got marching orders to come up with a new, tighter focus for the agency.

Kimmerer, Grindstaff and others told the board Thursday that the agency will have to fix what can be fixed and avoid unrealistic expectations.

Grindstaff told the board that the Authority must settle on its new focus by November. And he had them fill out a survey on which parts of the CALFED program board members think should get priority.

The results of that poll, posted later in the meeting, showed that board members gave highest priority to doing needed scientific research on the Delta, then protecting drinking water quality, and then repairing levees and restoring the ecosystem.

Items that came out with the lowest priorities were building new water storage projects, such as dams; building new conveyance systems for shipping water; and making it easier for agencies to transfer their water elsewhere.

"We are figuring out what a new balanced program is," Grindstaff told the board.

One part of the balance that has changed is funding. Scientific research that once received $20 million a year got only $10 million this year and received no assurance of any further research funding in the future.

That, in part, is what prompted Johnnie Moore, the geologist who heads the CALFED science program, to announce in May that he was resigning.

Moore continues to work for the agency while it searches for a replacement. Thursday, he gave the board a $10 million research list he recommended funding. He said he and advisory groups chose the studies on the assumption that CALFED may not be able to do any additional research.

The board approved the pared science program.

Also Thursday, Kimmerer summarized the clues that have emerged so far in the reasons behind the decline in young striped bass, Delta smelt, shad and other fish. He said scientists are finding that most suspected causes -- massive exports of Delta water pumped to Southern California, climate change, invasive exotic species, pollution from pesticides and other human-made chemicals -- don't seem to correspond to the sudden collapse of fish populations.

One clue that is promising is that there has been a sudden collapse in the numbers of copepods -- microscopic animals at the base of the food chain -- at exactly the same time that populations of young bass and smelt collapsed. #

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