California’s broken water system. San Luis Reservoir

Exposed upper intake structure at San Luis Reservoir. Aug. 9, 2016.
Exposed upper intake at San Luis Reservoir. Aug. 9, 2016.

Despite reasonable amounts of rain in California this year, too little water was pumped to reservoirs where it is needed and too much used to protect Sacramento Delta smelt. Yes, I know, if the smelt die off, that would be a sign the Delta is in precarious condition. Yet, because of this, the San Luis reservoir is so low it is delivering practically no water to Silicon Valley.

Water was also pumped to save salmon, another laudable goal, to be sure. Also, if not enough fresh water flows into the Delta, salinity will increase, and that can not be allowed. So, at least some of the water Central Valley farmers and cities in southern California want must be pumped into the Delta to keep it alive and not saline.

But still, maybe fish are over protected and humans and agriculture needing water, not so much? That’s what some think.

If you need a sign that the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is broken, look no further than San Luis Reservoir. Despite near-average precipitation this year and healthy storage in other north state reservoirs, San Luis is so precipitously low that deliveries were nearly shutoff in early August.

Meanwhile Shasta Lake, the state’s largest reservoir, sits at 109% of its historic average for the date.

What’s wrong with this picture? In a nutshell, we have a water system that is broken from a physical and policy standpoint.

The water community strongly supports the California policy of coequal goals. Sadly, actions by regulatory agencies continue to undermine that policy. Any one driving past San Luis Reservoir this summer can see the result.

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