The Delta is the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americans. It’s made up of nearly 1,000 miles of waterways forming a complex maze of tributaries, sloughs and islands, covering nearly 800,000 acres. This estuary is a key component of the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds and supports 80 percent of California’s commercial salmon fisheries.
….a hundred years after we are gone and forgotten, those who never heard of us will
be living with the results of our words and actions….” Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
You’re on Delta time now! The Delta is many things to many people. It is rural living at its best in small towns and villages where motorists occasionally have to stop for tractors and drawbridges. It is a paradise for boaters and fishermen and an adventure for tourist and wine connoisseurs.
The Delta offers resort living in small towns, levee-hugging villages and islands surrounded by water. Several small well established legacy communities including Locke, the only town in the United States built primarily by early Chinese immigrants; Courtland – home to the gala Courtland Pear Fair each year and Ryde – most famous for its illustrious Ryde Hotel, built in 1927 at the peak of the prohibition. Other legacy communities include Freeport, Hood, Isleton, Clarksburg, Rio Vista, Walnut Grove, Knightsen and Collinsville.
These Delta communities are also home to small- and large-scale agricultural operations, packing sheds and agricultural manufacturing enterprises generating almost $300 million annually and are intricately tied to the larger worldwide agricultural economy.
In addition to the Delta’s annual production value, there are thousands of jobs directly tied to agriculture operations and thousands more that are impacted indirectly in the production, processing, distributing and marketing of those commodities. Relative to economic impact, it is estimated that there is approximately a four to one ratio for regional crops so $300 million in production value is actually a $1.2 billion impact on the local economy. Other benefits of agriculture include quality of life, open space contribution and management of habitat for wildlife.
Today there are approximately 1,115 miles of levees protecting 500,000 acres of lowland in the Delta primary zone. The levees are maintained by local reclamation districts. In the last 30 years, the State of California has provided supplemental financing for levee maintenance; however, the Delta is subsiding and undergoing continuous changes making regular maintenance a critical priority.
In August 2012, many levees in the Delta were de-accredited by FEMA because their reclamation districts could not provide documented evidence that the levees could withstand a 100-year flood. Therefore, properties protected by these levees are now in FEMA Special Flood Hazard Areas.
The Delta is California’s most important water resource and the hub of California’s water infrastructure. But the Delta is much more than just a plumbing system.
About 25 million Californians and 4.5 million square miles of farmland rely on diversions from the Delta for water, supporting the agricultural and urban areas that provide for the State’s well-being and fuel its economy.
A large-scale plan, estimated at 15 to 20 billion dollars, proposes to divert Delta water to the south, via an isolated conveyance facility, for both agriculture and urban uses. Alternatives and mitigation measures are currently under review.
While developing and maintaining a reliable water supply is a critical need for California, of equal concern is preserving the state of Delta and maintaining and restoring the health of its ecosystem.
Sacramento County is and will continue to be interested in pursuing an all-encompassing effort for a California water solution – but the solution must be holistic in nature and also must protect our historic and culturally significant Delta communities, the local economy, existing water rights and the pristine habitat that is home to some 750 species of plants, fish and wildlife.