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Maria Gutzeit: Common sense needed on water

SCV Voices

Posted: December 11, 2009 4:31 p.m.
Updated: December 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Santa Clarita gets 50 percent of its water from snowmelt originating in Northern California, in the Sacramento Bay Delta. More than half the state gets water from there.

Yet a decades-old battle of “North versus South” and environmental lawsuits over endangered fish have led some to believe we should live without that water.

I disagree and instead support a win-win fix to our backbone water system.

The Sacramento Bay Delta consists of hundreds of miles of earthen levees, much like those that failed in New Orleans’ Hurricane Katrina.

The levees route snowmelt from the Sierras around numerous artificial islands that are used for agriculture or housing.  Some water is pumped out by local users, some is pumped out to the State Water Project for water users in the center and south of the state and some water flows to the ocean.

For years, we have known the levees are at risk due to lack of maintenance. New studies also indicate a high likelihood of earthquake-induced failure.

Mismanagement has led to pollution, seawater flowing into the area from the ocean and a failing ecosystem.

Initial estimates for 2010 show we can expect to get only 5 percent of our water allocation next year. The allocation amount is based on funding and contracts for which our local water wholesaler, and ultimately our citizens, have paid.

Is the lack of water about protecting endangered fish? I don’t think so, or the lawsuits would have targeted other impacts on the delta besides the pumps that send water south.

Northern California pumpers were not curtailed. Nor were untreated agricultural runoff, undertreated sewage discharges, invasive species or seawater intrusion listed as culprits.

Clearly if it was about fish, all those causing impacts would have been studied and asked to “share the pain.”

Is a proposed fix “too expensive?”

Recently, a comprehensive water package was passed that indirectly opens the way for structural solutions that may include off-stream storage (different than dams on a river) and an engineered conveyance (such as a canal) to route water around the levees.

Legislation included a lot of mandates and conservation goals, but voters next year must pass a funding bond or nothing will happen.

I detest the current deplorable state budget, but the loss of nearly half our water will cripple Santa Clarita and California in general for decades to come.

Fixing water infrastructure is a needed investment. To save money, politicians should instead cut their local pork projects.

Can we conserve instead? While wasting water is akin to wasting money, we need our supply to keep businesses operating, allow economic recovery and sustain local habitats.

Already this year, we have seen nearly 15 percent voluntary conservation, which is fabulous, but the mandated loss of 45 percent of our supply (more if we have a dry year and have trouble with local groundwater too) would be tragic.

We would have a building moratorium that would affect jobs and prevent new schools and services. Parks and private property would become devoid of landscape, shade trees would die and property values would drop, as even drought-tolerant landscaping needs water in our climate.

Our own Santa Clara River would go dry and brown, hurting local endangered species if water supplies were cut back drastically for the long term.

Is the water really Northern California’s and should we learn to live with what we have?

That argument is about as silly as saying Northern Californians can’t drive on our freeways or that we won’t send our tax revenues to Sacramento.

We share our parks, agriculture, public services and economy. Our natural resources are, likewise, for all Californians.

Northern California housing and agriculture depends on fixes to the levees to prevent catastrophic flooding and ecosystem damage.

Legislators have already decided that is a statewide benefit for which we will all pay, even if most of us have never seen the Sacramento Bay Delta.

They have also already decided any water infrastructure (storage or a canal) will be paid for by the southern California water users, though it will also benefit those living and working behind the failing levees.

We do — and will — pay more than our fair share.

Like all politics, some want to make this decision based on sound bites. Yes or no.  Us versus them.

The reality few are willing to admit is that there is a real fix that will help us all and will ultimately be best for both the economy and the environment.

Parties as disparate as The Governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force and The Nature Conservancy conclude a structural fix to the Delta is necessary to protect habitat and provide needed water supplies.

To learn more visit deltavision.ca.gov or  www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/california/initiatives/deltaoverview.html.

The time is now to stop bickering, stop the excuses and go with the win-win fix that exists.

Maria Gutzeit is a Santa Clarita resident. She works as an environmental engineer and serves as president of the board for Newhall County Water District. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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