18 SOURCE fall 2013
Issues in Infrastructure:
Pumps and Screens
in the Delta
By Nancy L. Vogel
California moves more water farther than just about any
other place on Earth. Our $2 trillion economy depends on
it. But the environmental cost of our water projects has
become increasingly clear in the last few decades, especially
in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The state’s two biggest rivers converge in this low-lying area
between Sacramento and Stockton. Federal and state water project
pumps built in the Delta six decades ago now supply 25 million
people and three million acres of farmland.
The Delta is also an estuary where ocean and river water mix and
is influenced by salty tides pushing east from San Francisco Bay. That
makes it an ecologically rich area, home to hundreds of plant and
wildlife species. The Delta’s labyrinth of channels also serves as a
migration corridor for Chinook salmon, a species that supports jobs
along the entire West Coast.
In California water politics, “Delta” is synonymous with “dispute.”
Here economic and environmental imperatives clash with high stakes.
But the administrations of California Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr. and
President Barack Obama are making progress on a long-term plan to
achieve both economic and environmental stability in the Delta.
In the last couple of decades, water project pumping restrictions
aimed at protecting endangered and threatened species—Delta
smelt and Chinook salmon—have stymied water deliveries to farms
and cities, leading to supply cutbacks in Southern California, the
San Joaquin Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, the regions that
depend most heavily on water exported from the Delta.