Californians clueless that water comes from Sacramento Delta

A disturbing 78% of Californians in a recent survey said they didn’t know what the Bay Delta was. This strongly implies they also don’t know, depending on where they live, that some or most of their water may well come from the Delta and food they eat has been irrigated by Delta water. Southern California was even worse, with a whopping 86% saying they’d never heard of that Delta thingee.

For water activists and water policy wonks, this is approximately like discovering those you’d thought you’d been having a conversation with are, in fact, Martians residing on a different planet. And they’d not heard a word you said. Statewide, 4.7% said the Delta was about protecting endangered species while even fewer, 2.5%, said the Delta was a source of water. But the Delta isn’t just a source of water; it’s a primary source of water.

The Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers empty into the Delta. From there, the water goes to the Bay Area, the Central Valley Project, and the State Water Project. The Central Valley Project is a federal project that began in 1933. It includes reservoirs, hydropower, and water for people and of course agriculture. The behemoth State Water Project supplies water to 23 million people and generates large amounts of hydropower as well. It was originally created to send water to southern California from the Delta and elsewhere. Both projects get substantial amounts of water from the Delta.

Thus, if Californians don’t know about the Delta, then perhaps they need to because if they aren’t minding their water, someone else will mind it for them. “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over,” is as true now as when Mark Twain was reputed to have said it. And yes, he lived in California for a while.

The Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior at UC Davis says:

This lack of connection to water management puts a lot of power in the hands of the water experts in agencies and NGOs who are continually fighting (and sometimes cooperating) about water resources. I generally believe that further education about water resources would be a good thing, although sometimes I worry what would happen if EVERY Californian decided they had to fight over water!

Well, we don’t always have to fight about it. Sometimes we can vote on it, as in the upcoming 2012 elections where the ponderously named Safe, Clean and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2012 may be on the ballot. Surprisingly, 60% of those in the survey say they will vote yes on this $11 billion bond measure.

This bond measure was removed from a previous ballot because of fears it would not pass. It is quite possible this bond could be removed too, and perhaps put back on the ballot in 2014. This apparently would be Gov. Brown’s wish. The problems with the water bond are numerous. The interest on the debt would be $800 million a year, certainly a hard sell for a state struggling to meet financial obligations. Worse, it gives pork a bad name. Every municipality and water district seemingly jumped onboard and demanded funding for their pet water project in return for their support.

Even Sacramento politicians are embarrassed by what the Sacramento Bee calls “this Hinderberg of a water bond.” Its mere existence on the ballot could bring down Jerry Brown’s proposed tax hike measure. So, it will probably be pulled. But it also needs to be rethought, with a better water bond as the result. Who knows, maybe by then most Californians will know what the Delta is. Sigh.

(crossposted from IVN)