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Mercury News: California must fix the broken ecosystem that supplies two-thirds of its water

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Mercury News Editorial

How contentious is the California debate over its water supply? Most experts in Sacramento believe it’ll be easier to pass health care reform than to find a compromise on water. Both are incredibly complex, politically charged and decades overdue for reform.

Water pits Northern California against Southern California, urban dwellers against farmers, and environmentalists against just about everybody in a high-stakes brawl that might be amusing if the outcome weren’t so critical to the state’s future.

A package of bills being brokered in the Legislature this week could provide the framework for a solution. Some decisions, like whether to build a canal around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, can’t be made now because there’s no agreement on scientific and cost data. Some other ideas on the table are questionable, but some are clearly right. This has to be the year to start. And the place to start is the delta itself.

California must fix the broken ecosystem that supplies two-thirds of its water, including half of Santa Clara County’s supply, and irrigates most of its farmland. A “massive failure” of the system — which everyone seems to agree is imminent — could carry a $40 billion economic impact and would be an environmental disaster.

The state has to repair the Delta’s maze of 1,000 levees, which have fallen into horrible disrepair. Even Katrina has not driven home this necessity.

To bring common sense to any plan, the state must set up a better way to govern the system. Today 200 agencies hold some power over the delta. State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, has proposed a seven-member board. We’d prefer a broader group, but if the choice is between 200 agencies and seven accountable individuals, we’ll go with the seven.

Read the full editorial on the Mercury News website