Sacramento River


Take Me to the River (Without Leaving My Desk)

A new project to visually map American waterways will start with California’s Sacramento

The Sacramento River is a lifeline for California.

By the end of the summer, you may be able to float down the Sacramento River from your computer, thanks to the Riverview Project. It’s an initiative to document and map rivers, using similar tools to the ones Google used to create Street View, and with similar results: the ability to drop into a place on a map, click to move down the street (or float down the river), and take a look around.

“There’s reams of data (about rivers),” Jared Criscuolo, one of the founders of the Riverview Project told me. “But the thing we’ve noticed we’re missing is a visual piece.”

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California’s Ingenious Flood Relief Valve

Opening California’s “spillway” is not the sort of thing that brings out CNN

This week officials made the uncomfortable decision to place thousands of homes and businesses in harm’s way, in order to avoid an even bigger catastrophe on the lower Mississippi River.

But as the opening of the Morganza Spillway was the subject of national media attention, California’s version had already been deployed a month earlier — and hardly anyone noticed.

The Yolo Bypass may be California’s most ingenious contrivance for flood protection and yet, many people drive over it every day without knowing its purpose.

The Yolo Bypass on March 1 of this year. The Sacramento skyline rises in the distance. (Photo: Craig Miller)

The bypass is a 59,000-acre funnel designed to catch the overflow of the Sacramento River and divert it harmlessly downstream, dumping it back into the main channel near Rio Vista. Generally speaking, it works like a charm. And it does so without fanfare because there are nobody lives there. That’s the idea. Continue reading

Delta Dawn

Scientists and policy wonks seem to be in general agreement on this: that it’s time to close out the current management epoch on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and begin anew. There’s less accord on how to proceed.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Policy makers have assembled “blue ribbon” panels to study the options and make recommendations. Volumes of studies and proposals line the shelves in Sacramento and elsewhere.

Last week a new idea surfaced for moving water through the Delta: Instead of channeling around it, tunnel under it.

This week the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California released its recommendations for a mechanism to fund the enormous fixes that will be required: Those who benefit pay (ecologists use the term “ecosystem services” for all those bennies we get from natural resources and tend to take for granted).

Whatever the outcome, one thing seems inevitable, with or without human intervention. Driven by warming ocean temperatures, rising sea levels will continue to push saltwater farther upstream, changing the Delta’s character and the “services” it provides.

Recently a team of students at U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism produced a Flash presentation on some of the issues raised by advancing salt in the Delta. The multimedia report: Delicate Balance was produced for Climate Watch by Amanda Dyer, Martin Ricard and Jeremy Whitaker. We’re grateful to them for their time and creativity.


“The Australian Reality”

Australia's Simpson Desert. Photo: Mike Gillam

Australia's Simpson Desert. Photo: Mike Gillam

Referring to Australia’s seven-year drought, that’s how the state’s top water manager describes the new paradigm for water planning at the Dept. of Water Resources.

Speaking to a packed house at the annual forum of the Sacramento River Watershed Program yesterday, DWR Director Lester Snow said his staff is assuming that 2010 will be another dry year. Snow warned about “loss of resilience” in the state’s water system, calling it “completely unsustainable” in it’s present form, given predictions for population growth, coupled with anticipated effects of climate change.

All speakers at the forum seemed to agree that a paradigm shift is in order. Thomas Philps, a strategist at SoCal’s Metropolitan Water District, pointed out that in Victoria’s capital city of Melbourne (Australia), per capita water consumption runs about 40 gallons per day, while in California’s capital, it’s 280 gallons. As Sasha Khoka will report Monday morning on The California Report, Sacramento is just one of several cities in the Central Valley that still doesn’t meter its water use. Philps added that the Sacramento region is “on a trajectory” to use the same volume of water as Los Angeles, though he did not say by when.

UC Davis geologist Jeff Mount cautioned against relying on additional surface storage to secure California’s water future. Not only does storing water become “very expensive” year over year, but dams and reservoirs “don’t create any new water,” he said. (If some think Mount is taking a “jaundiced view” of the situation, it might be because he braved a bout of hepatitis to deliver his morning talk)

In a panel discussion on resource planning, moderator Greg Zlotnick of the Santa Clara Valley Water District asked panelists to respond with “true” or “false” to a quote from the Pacific Institute’s Peter Gleick in a story aired on NPR last week. The quote, as given by Zlotnick, was: “Government has built infrastructure and made promises that can’t be kept.” Here are the panelists’ responses:

Tina Swanson, The Bay Institute: “True.”

Philps: “True, but…” (Generally true but MWD doesn’t really expect to get its full contractual allocation of water anymore, anyway)

Don Glaser, US Bureau of Reclamation: “False, but…” (Water allotments from his agency’s Central Valley Project are intended to be “supplemental contracts,” to augment use of groundwater and other sources, but Glaser sees the statement becoming “more and more true in the future.”)

Snow: “Hell, no.”