When a government official decides to appoint a blue-ribbon task force to study an issue, it usually means we’re in big trouble—the problems are so huge and the potential solutions so controversial that no politician wants to touch them with a 10-foot pole.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force tackled one such issue: the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Led by Sacramento’s own farmer, former mayor and assemblyman, Phil Isenberg, the task force released its report last October.
The findings were not good.
Some highlights: There is not enough water. If we continue what we are doing, we will destroy the Delta which, according to the task force’s Web site, provides more than two-thirds of Californians with water and is the habitat of more than 750 types of plants and animals. What’s more, the levee system is in horrible shape, and the growing impacts of climate change and increased population are only going to make it worse.
The report calls for a radical new approach to water allocation and use and advocates taking steps that could actually work in the real world, as opposed to the current fantasy world of water allocations that allots greater amounts of water than even exist.
Ultimately, the task force recommends the creation of “an independent body with authority to achieve the co-equal goals of ecosystem revitalization and adequate water supply for California.”
To those of you holding this paper who are urban dwellers living in the greater Sacramento region, the task force has pegged you as public enemy No. 1. That’s because Sacramento residents use an average of 280 gallons of water per day per person—that’s the highest per-person usage in the United States! (The rest of California survives on 192 gallons of water per person per day.)
When comparing possible approaches to saving water, the task force suggests that urban water-use efficiency could save us as much as 3.1 million acre-feet per year, and recycled municipal water could be 1.4 million acre-feet. This compares to net agricultural water-use efficiency of 800,000 acre-feet of possible savings.
The task force wants and needs us to do our part.
What usually happens after a blue-ribbon task force makes its sensible but controversial recommendations? They are generally ignored because people have too much invested in the status quo to support change.
Unfortunately, the status quo doesn’t necessarily stay that way forever. If we ignore the task force’s recommendations, we do so at our own peril.
“There won’t ever be a sustainable and reliable water supply without a vibrant Delta ecosystem,” concludes the report. “And the reverse is also true.”