California delta tapped for too much water, in ecological crisis

The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in California is in ecological freefall. The 738,000-acre area supplies drinking water to millions and irrigation water for major agricultural producers. The delta smelt, a fish that’s an indicator species for the region’s overall health, is fast sliding toward extinction, thanks to massive water diversions and other management plans that have degraded water quality. Critics charge that CalFed, the agency created in 1994 to restore the delta’s environment while ensuring water supply, has moved too slowly to stop the ecosystem’s decline. “I believe that CalFed has failed, and died, but that no one directly involved is willing to admit it,” water expert Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute wrote in a letter to a state commission examining the program. But CalFed defenders say they’re making progress and point to a few successes, including improved salmon-spawning habitat. As the president might say: CalFedding is hard work.