San Joaquin River DOTMDL -- Technical Working Group

Editorial: Abandoning ship. Top staff leaving CalFed water program - why?

Sacramento Bee - June 14, 2005
By Opinion Editorial

Editorial: Abandoning ship. Top staff leaving CalFed water program - why?

Sacramento Bee 6/14/05
By Editorial Staff

As the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta faces perhaps its greatest environmental problems in modern history, two of the most important leaders needed to help solve the problem have suddenly left. CalFed, the grand state and federal effort to coordinate the work of more than 14 agencies and to forge a consensus among the many conflicting water interests, is without a permanent executive director or science director. Patrick Wright, CalFed's former leader, has taken a job with the state resources agency. Lead scientist Johnnie Moore, meanwhile, has announced his departure as well.

CalFed these days has few (if any) staunch defenders among water districts, farmers and environmentalists. But this isn't a popularity contest. Back when the official CalFed water strategy was unveiled in 2000, there was widespread support largely because of expectations that CalFed was the key to billions in funds from the state and federal governments. CalFed, an authority run by an array of state and federal officials, legislators and appointees, was to mull how best to spend the money on behalf of every interest - ecosystem restoration, reservoirs, Delta levee maintenance, groundwater management programs, you name it.

Because both the state and federal budgets have gone deep into deficits since 2000, however, CalFed has brought a message that a different financial strategy, one based more on self-funding, is necessary. When the news isn't welcome, everyone knows what can happen to messengers.

Meanwhile, the Delta suddenly has some of the lowest overall populations of smelt, shad and other native fish ever recorded. That's unwelcome news. So is the notion that scientists such as Moore don't know precisely why this is happening. Or that they may not have nearly the research money to get to the bottom of it. No wonder he's leaving.

As the Delta ecosystem is crashing, Southern California and San Joaquin farming interests are hoping to boost supplies by increasing the maximum rate of pumping from the Delta into the state's aqueduct. Too much political energy is going into this fight. For CalFed and all of California water policy, this is a moment to step back, regroup and get the house in order, starting with the family budget. This house desperately needs some parents - and participants from all interests with realistic expectations and a sincere desire to find common ground.#

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