Why you should know where your water comes from

By John Loo via Flickr/Creative Commons
By John Loo via Flickr/Creative Commons

There’s consensus that California needs a big new deal to govern water. There’s no consensus on what should be in it. Habitat restoration? Rebuilt levees to withstand earthquakes? Or new tunnels to divert water from the Sacramento River to farmers and cities in Southern California?

These are all possibilities for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a water source for 25 million of California’s 38 million people. But if there’s to be a smart deal on the most contentious and complicated issue in California, the most important ingredient isn’t water. It’s sunscreen—the sunscreen that participants in any negotiations should apply to themselves as they head out to look at the affected places firsthand.

If you want tunnels, determine their location while you’re walking along the Sacramento River. If you intend to flood a Delta island to restore habitat, work out the details while meeting on that island. If you’re going to rebuild levees, make those plans while standing on them.

This may sound obvious, but in California it would be novel. The many legislative attempts over the past two generations to devise solutions to California’s water problems share two characteristics: 1) They took place mostly behind closed doors. 2) They failed. Current efforts to enact the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which combines the proposal for tunnels with habitat restoration and literally hundreds of other ideas, could fall into the same pattern.

So let’s step outside.

Last year, I observed a series of dialogues among representatives of Delta stakeholders—farmers, fishermen, water agencies, environmentalists, and officials of local, state, and federal

Sacramento River. By Alaskan Dude via Flickr/Creative Commons
Sacramento River. By Alaskan Dude via Flickr/Creative Commons

governments. (Full disclosure: I was hired by the Bay Area-based facilitators of the conversations to write an account of the gatherings.)

The dialogues were constructive, even among people who had spent years fighting with (and suing) one another. But in my observation, what was most useful was the location of the talks—out in the field. As they talked, the stakeholders examined levees in various states of repair, visited an island that would be flooded, and toured Delta farms.

Most surprising was, well, the surprise. All the participants had lived or worked in the Delta, in some cases for their entire lives. But even those who knew the Delta best had seen only parts of the massive estuary and kept remarking upon how the place was even more complex than they knew. At one site, state officials realized they hadn’t recognized how a proposed route for one piece of water infrastructure might separate a farm from its packing house.

One breakthrough came during an informal meeting between five stakeholders, including farmers and state officials, at Steamboat Slough in the North Delta, as everyone stood with a map spread out over the front of a pickup truck. The topic was, in the ears of most Californians, pretty obscure: “setback levees”—moving levees to widen the Delta waterways and help restore endangered fish habitats. But there on Steamboat Slough, this small group noticed that much of the best agricultural land is right near the levees, making setback levees very disruptive and expensive. They agreed it made more sense to focus habitat restoration efforts on the low-lying interiors of islands, where crops are less valuable and flooding is already common.

The lesson is that big deals on water will always be nearly impossible, so, if they are to have any chance of success, they must incorporate local knowledge. And, since big deals in California almost always require the ratification of the people, it’s not just dealmakers who should visit the Delta. We Southern Californians are particularly ignorant of where our water comes from. We ought to be informing ourselves.

It only takes an extra hour on your next drive from SoCal to the Bay Area. Campbell Ingram of the Delta Conservancy suggests the following route:

Take I-5 north through Stockton and then west into the Delta on Highway 12. Stop at the Discover the Delta farm stand at the corner of Highway 12 and Highway 160, then head south on 160 over the Antioch Bridge. From there, go west on Highway 4, which connects to I-80 north of Berkeley.

Of course, for those of you who would make water policy, more than a drive-through should be required. To borrow a line from that great water film Chinatown: if you can’t take the water to the negotiations, take the negotiations to the water.

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zocalo Public Square.

Below: Producer Brian Calvert reports on a new way to predict California’s water supply

[soundcloud id=’90506188′]


  1. jack paker
    Apr 24, 2015, 2:20 am

    The time-honored remembrances any parent or guardian or guard methods. The making reference to of encounters. cigar in cheap

  2. jack paker
    Apr 22, 2015, 4:23 am

    Enhancing job-related skills so that the current workers can constantly. electronic cigar

  • Il ya tellement de gens qui n’ont tout simplement pas de valeur ajoutée à ajouter aux travaux OP, donc s’il vous plaît essayer d’amener une discussion plus constructive à ce poste. Je sais que je ne suis pas en train de faire quelque chose de constructif avec cette annonce, mais je tenais à vous le dire à ce sujet.

  • Awex Ather

    I have been looking into for a few hours and your post is one of the best I have read.

  • Awex Ather

    I think this cupcakes will bring me a nice sense at home, everybody will be so happy to see this exquisite
    best seo in town

  • Awex Ather

    I need to much obliged. Great employment! You all do an incredible blog,
    and have some extraordinary substance. Keep doing awesome
    web design

  • Awex Ather

    I made it, we had it with vanilla ice cream and next day the rest was used to top our porridge
    clash of clans cheats free

  • Awex Ather

    I see you got really very useful topics , i will be always checking your blog thanks
    high pr links

  • Awex Ather

    I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.
    seo spain

  • Awex Ather

    It’s hard to tell with these Internet startups if they’re really interested in building companies
    seo spain

  • Awex Ather

    Add your name to this list by taking the last drink out of Jameson bottle
    miami house movers

  • Awex Ather

    You all do an incredible blog, and have some extraordinary substance. Keep doing awesome
    boca CPA

  • Awex Ather

    I found many interesting things from this site. It helps me in many ways.Thanks for posting this again.
    house movers boca

  • Awex Ather

    I concur with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your future updates.
    CPA boca

  • Awex Ather

    I have been looking around the internet for something of valuable information and finally found this post that caught my attention
    boca house movers

  • Awex Ather

    I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every
    little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you

    cheap backlinks

  • Awex Ather

    We can dabble, we can experiment. We can try out being unlikable and selfish, and it won’t get us kicked out of the family
    florida house

  • Awex Ather

    I would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful job
    seo spain

  • The proposal for tunnels with habitat restoration and
    literally hundreds of other ideas, could fall into the same pattern. electronic cigar

  • I have a hard time describing my thoughts on content, but I really felt I should here. Your article is really great. I like the way you wrote this information. gatwick car parking

  • Now I know what i will do the next time i travel. Looking forward to go to Thailand later this year! Thanks for some pointers! gatwick car parking

  • Thanks for writing such a good article, I stumbled onto your blog and read a few post. I like your style of writing. cheap price cigar

  • All types of relationships. Learn what works and what doesn’t. Find your soul mate sooner than you think! And other info, visit my website: high pr backlinks

  • The light in which we can observe the reality. This is very nice one and gives indepth information. Thanks for this nice article. seo in barcelona

  • Soul mate sooner than you think! And other info, visit my website. electronic cigar

  • The previous version and contains many more text examples and clearer instruction on the logistics of texting your ex after a breakup. Please visit page. electronic cigrate

  • This will definitely be very useful for me when I get a chance to start my blog. cheap e cigar

  • Care means that extremely premature and very ill babies have better chances of survival than ever before. Thank you. seo service barcelona

  • jhon carteer

    You’re so cool! I don’t think I’ve read anything like this before. So
    good to find somebody with some original thoughts on this subject.
    Thanks for starting this up


  • Stumbled upon your weblog site and wanted to say that I have really experienced reading your weblog site articles. electronic cigar

  • Your post.Its full of information I am looking for and I love to post a comment that “The content of your post is awesome” Great work. gatwick car parking

  • I think everyone should be aware of Heath care and should apply for the health insurance of individual and all family members. electronic cigar

  • I agree with you. This post is truly inspiring. I like your post and everything you share with us is current and very informative, I want to bookmark the page so I can return here from you that you have done a fantastic job. seo service barcelona

  • I am very happy to read this article thanks for giving us go through info.Fantastic nice. I appreciate this post. electronic cigar

  • The information I am finding everywhere. Thanks for your blog, I just subscribe your blog. This is a nice blog. cigar in cheap

  • Enhancing job-related skills so that the current workers can constantly. electronic cigar

  • The time-honored remembrances any parent or guardian or guard methods. The making reference to of encounters. cigar in cheap