The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta estuary is the largest and most important aquatic ecosystem in the western United States and is in decline because of increasing water diversions, loss of habitat, competition from non-native species and poor water quality because of pesticides, herbicides and other pollutants.
The Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers are the main arteries that provide the lifeblood of fresh water that sustains the ecological balance of the Delta. That fresh water is a commodity that is valuable beyond measure and powerful interests are behind a plan to take control of that water.
Their plan is to build 40-foot diameter twin tunnels to divert 15 percent to 60 percent of the Sacramento River's flow of clean, fresh water 35 miles under the Delta from Courtland to Tracy where it would be delivered to Agriculture and Southern California water users.
Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed Bay Delta Conservation Plan combines the twin tunnels that will take water away from the Delta with a plan to revise and restore the Delta through 22 conservation measures.
The two plans would have opposing results but proponents of the BDCP lump the plans together and claim without the BDCP, fish populations and water deliveries will decline.
They include the twin tunnels as a contributing factor to their projections even though taking fresh water flow away from the Delta cannot possibility help the Delta's ecology.
Restoring the Delta will require more fresh water, not less. Smelt monitoring has shown when fresh water flows' decrease, smelt populations decrease.
Longfin and Delta smelt are at the base of the Delta's food chain, are harbingers of the Delta's health and are near extinction. Decreasing the flow of fresh water through the Delta would be the death knell of the area.
Restoration of the Delta should start with a plan to rebuild and reconfigure the antiquated network of Delta levees to provide a better water delivery system that would combine the water sources of the Delta's entire water shed.
That plan should include increasing the bypass of Sacramento River water between Walnut Grove and White Slough to infuse clean water with San Joaquin River water that has high concentrations of salt, pesticides and selenium.
Comprehensive restoration of the Delta estuary should include protection and restoration of habitat, recovery of endangered species, improving water quality and sedimentation and rehabilitating ecological processes.
High-tech screen installations to prevent fish kill at hundreds of pumping stations throughout the Delta should be prioritized to reduce the massive number of fish that are killed.
Florida's plan to restore 18,000 square miles of water resources, including the Florida Everglades, provides a good example for managing the Delta.
After decades of encroachment, pollution and water diversions, including turning a river meandering through the Everglades into a straight canal, a plan has been developed to revitalize Florida's natural environment by capturing 1.7 billion gallons of fresh water per day that flow to the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
Brown, the California natural recourses agency, the state water board and other California leaders should follow Florida's example by using the $25 billion projected cost of the twin tunnels to rebuild the Delta levee infrastructure, use more fresh water leaving the Delta and restore tidal marshes.
A water desalination process being developed using graphene filtration screens could soon make fresh water available and affordable in Southern California and globally.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta estuary is an invaluable natural resource that needs to be preserved through conservation and maintaining the flow of fresh water through the Delta so the plan to build the twin tunnels must be stopped.
Mark Altgelt is a resident of Vallejo.