Nice work, but ...


Matt Jenkins did a great job describing the intricacies of the California water wars in the Delta (HCN, 12/20/10).

But a few corrections: Jenkins said that two-thirds of the water used in the state is drafted from the Delta. Actually, only about 12 percent of the water used in California is taken from the Delta.

Jenkins wrote, "Most of the re-engineering was done to create the long-distance water extraction system." Not really. The only major work done in the Delta to accommodate water export was the Delta Cross Channel off the Sacramento River, and some channel work in the South Delta. The Delta was completely rebuilt in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, going from a maze of natural islands and channels to a highly engineered system. The vast majority of natural values were lost to irrigated agriculture.

Finally: "6.7 million gallons of water per minute" is about twice the actual pumping rate, and would produce deliveries of more than 10 million acre-feet per year. The actual rate is closer to 5 million acre-feet per year.

None of these errors take away from the central message of the story, which was extremely well done.

Jerry Meral
Deputy secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency in charge of the Bay Delta
Conservation Planning Program
Inverness, California

HCN responds
Mr. Meral's first point is an important one: On average, only about 12 percent of the water used in California is taken from the Delta. I appreciate his correction and regret my error. Nonetheless, most Californians are still directly connected to the problems in the Delta. According to the state Department of Water Resources, about two-thirds of the people in  the state receive at least some of their water from the Delta. I agree with Mr. Meral's point that the physical configuration of the Delta was most dramatically shaped by the farm-building campaign there. But I would point out that the installation of two giant batteries of  pumps that completely disrupt natural flow patterns is no small change. I stand by my assertion regarding the capacity of those pumps. When operating  at full throttle, they actually do pump about 6.7 million gallons of water per minute. As Mr. Meral correctly points out, they often operate at far lower levels -- but my intent in using this figure was to show that the pumps are quite powerful machines.

Matt Jenkins
HCN Contributing Editor