By Dan Walters
Published: Monday, Dec. 16, 2013 – 12:00 am
The release last week of detailed plans for building water tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta touches off a legal and political battle that could take years to resolve.
The tunnels, however, are merely one aspect of securing an adequate and dependable water supply for the state – and perhaps not even the most important aspect.
The tunnels, if built, would allow some Sacramento River water to bypass the environmentally stressed Delta on its way to the head of the California Aqueduct near Tracy.
However, a more fundamental issue is whether there will be enough water, when needed, to satisfy the 25 million Californians who draw water from the aqueduct and farmers, while enhancing the Delta’s deteriorated habitat for fish and other Delta wildlife.
The state’s largest reservoir, by far, is the snowpack that accumulates in the Sierra during winter months and is released into the Sacramento-San Joaquin river systems as warmer spring and summer weather melts the snow.
Under natural circumstances, those flows are seasonal, and as California’s population increased during the 20th century, state, federal and local agencies constructed dozens of dams and reservoirs to capture the melting snow and keep the state’s rivers flowing year-round.
Meteorologists believe that climate change will reduce California’s winter snowfall and increase its rainfall, thus shrinking the natural snowpack reservoir. If that’s true, California will need more man-made storage, either surface reservoirs or underground aquifers, to capture seasonal rainfall.
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