The single most important goal of CalFed should be to assure high quality water for the millions of Californians dependent on the Delta ecosystem. That is particularly true for the half million customers of the Contra Costa Water District, which gets all of its water directly from the Delta.

Amazingly, a decade after CalFed was formed there are no regulations to make sure the Delta is safe for drinking water, according to CCWD assistant general manager Greg Gartrell.

The standards being used today are the ones that predate CalFed and concentrate on protecting fish and farms. There have been no projects to improve water quality.

As a result the purity of Delta water has grown worse over the past decade. Bromides and dissolved solids are far higher than the national average of drinking water sources.

Fortunately, CCWD was able to build the Los Vaqueros Reservoir, which allows the district to take in fresh water during the wet months to be used during the dry season, when salts increase to high levels.

The reservoir has helped improve water quality for customers in the summer and fall. But that does not solve the problem of the overall deteriorating quality of Delta water. Nor does it solve the increasingly complex problem of treating drinking water.

Processes used to treat water containing organic compounds and bromides may produce other contaminants such as bromate and trihalomethanes.

However, if there is not enough disinfection, bacteria can increase to unhealthy levels. If too much disinfectant is used, other hazardous chemicals can increase.

As the Delta water quality decreases, problems for CCWD increase. But the worsening quality of Delta water affects far more than the 500,000 customers of the district.

Water that flows through the Delta system is used by more than 23 million Californians.

If CalFed survives its troubles, it needs to place a far greater emphasis on improving water quality. Not only would water users benefit, but better monitoring of the water could do much to protect fish and preserve the ecological balance of the Delta.

Had there been adequate water quality monitoring a decade ago, it is probable that the decline in fish populations would have been predicted years before it occurred.

That may have given water experts time to do something to prevent what has become an environmental nightmare.

Improving Delta water quality is sure to be expensive, but so is dealing with poor quality. Over the past 10 years, CCWD has spent $850 million (including the $450 million spent on the Los Vaqueros Reservoir) on capital improvements to assure water quality. That does not count the continuing expense of treating water.

Water quality for human use should have been goal No. 1 for CalFed from the start.

With the increase in contaminants and the growing demand for supplies, it is long past time to correct a situation that could be disastrous for much of California.