Wednesday January 18, 2023

Public Policy Institute of California

A massive amount of water is moving through the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta in the wake of recent storms, and calls have risen from all quarters to capture more of this bounty while it’s here. We spoke with PPIC Water Policy Center adjunct fellow Greg Gartrell to understand what’s preventing that—and to dispel the myth of “water wasted to the sea.”

Your recent policy brief said that California doesn’t do a good enough job of managing water supply in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta in wet years. Are we likely to see some of the effects that you highlighted this year?

Yes. The brief focused on where we could have improved water management during California’s last three really wet years, which were 2011, 2017, and 2019. All three years had periods when the San Joaquin River was flooding, protections for salmon and steelhead were suspended, and the two water projects—Central Valley Project and State Water Project—could pump without restrictions. But the major reservoir south of the Delta—San Luis—was full, and there was simply no place to put the additional water.

We could see that again this year, though a couple of things make that less likely. Reservoirs further south, like Castaic and Diamond Valley in Southern California, are low and will be able to take some water, and some areas in the San Joaquin Valley now have capacity to put more water in the ground.

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