By Shermakaye Bass
Green Right Now
California is experiencing its third year of drought, statewide, and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which provides two-thirds of California’s fresh drinking water and yields a giant portion of the nation’s food supply, is dangerously close to running dry, water conservationists and water managers say.
Yesterday, federal officials vowed to act. During a visit to Sacramento, Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes met with local interests – farmers, fisheries, families and municipalities in the region – and promised to free up more water for their use. He acknowledged that the drought has compounded a pre-existing condition – the overall degradation of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Hayes said that restoration of the vital delta is as significant as the restoration of Florida’s Everglades or the East Coast’s Chesapeake Bay.
“Not only is it a crucial ecosystem that is in peril, but more than 20 million Americans in the most populated state in the nation rely on it for their drinking water,” Hayes said. “The status quo is not sustainable.”
Help can’t come too soon. In Fresno County alone, thousands of farmers have lost income and crops due to the drought, which is now ending its third year. According to a county request for a gubernatorial “State of Emergency” proclamation in April, due to “surface water allocations (that) have been reduced to zero percent… Fresno County farmers (will have to) fallow thousands of acres of crop land… (and) 250,000 acres will not be farmed in 2009 due to lack of water.”
The Sacramento-San Joaquin estuary is where two of California’s largest rivers converge and intermingle with saltwater from the Pacific Ocean. It is the West Coast’s largest estuary, hosting 500 species of wildlife, including 20-plus endangered species (the salt harvest Suisun Marsh mouse and the Delta smelt among them; it also is a critical migratory channel for regional salmon). It serves cities and farms from the Bay area to the Central Coast to Southern California – encompassing approximately 738,000 acres of farmland, yielding crops such as asparagus, grain, pears, corn, hay and tomatoes, and bringing in over $500 million each year.
But with the current drought, those contrasting needs have become more pronounced. Consider that over the past three years, California’s rainfall has been 35 to 25 percent below average. The state received 63 percent of average rainfall in 2007-2008; 72 percent of the average in 2008-2009; and 75 percent by the end of June 2009 for the 2009-2010 water year.
The timing of Deputy Secretary Hayes’s visit to Sacramento couldn’t have come at a less convenient time for the city itself. After a report last week that municipal water usage has spiked over the past three years while residents’ has been restricted, capital city officials are scrambling to figure out what happened – What caused, for instance, a 76 percent increase at one city property alone over the past two years?
The story, which appeared in the Sacramento Bee on Sunday was based on three years’ worth of metering records. It reported that at city properties overall, expenditure of the precious resource jumped by 22 percent.
The two biggest city guzzlers were a golf course and public park, and the city’s historic cemetery, where the Bee reporter noted antiquated watering systems that left wasteful pools of water.
The office of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has not yet responded to a request for comment by GreenRightNow. But with the U.S. Department of the Interior finally weighing in on California’s water woes – something the Bush Administration artfully dodged for eight years - the California capital is most likely putting its nose to the grind – and trying to figure out its own civic water balance.
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