California Must Avert An Earthquake-Created Drought

Gary Toebben
President & CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce

Water, cool, clear water. We know we can’t live without it. But we seldom think about the possibility that it may not be available when we need it.

While Los Angeles was founded near a river, early civic and business leaders recognized that our local water resources were limited, and that we could only provide for our growing population by augmenting our local supplies with imported water from distant places. Many other metropolitan areas in the early 20th century such as San Francisco also decided to make major investments in large aqueducts and reservoirs to capture and move water to their growing cities.

Since its founding in 1888, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce has always had access to water as one of its top priorities. Today is no different.

We are acutely aware of the possibility of a massive failure of the levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the impact on the State Water Project that delivers water to 23 million Californians who live south of the San Francisco Bay. The State Water Project and its federal equivalent, the Central Valley Project, are dependent upon fresh water in the southern end of the Delta to move water west and south to farms, towns and businesses from Silicon Valley to the Mexican border.

I have visited the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to see this once natural estuary surrounded by farmland which sits as much as 30 feet below sea level. The existing estuary and farmland is protected by earthen levees that state and federal experts agree would fall like dominoes in the event of an earthquake on the nearby Hayward Fault. If these levees fail, sea water will rush into the below sea level farms in the Delta and render the normally fresh water too salty to use. If numerous levees failed at the same time, the impact on the State’s water supplies would be immediate and catastrophic.

The Chamber has joined with business organizations from San Diego to San Francisco in calling for a plan of action. In 2009, the State Legislature and governor heard our call, along with the pleas of farmers, environmental organizations and water agencies throughout the State. They passed comprehensive legislation that put in motion an engineering and environmental analysis on how to restore the reliability of the State Water Project and the fish and wildlife that depend on the ecosystem of the Delta for their survival. The result was the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Later this month, Gov. Jerry Brown and United States Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar are expected to make a joint announcement on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. With the complexity of the engineering and environmental issues and the many ideas held by various interests, this plan will no doubt elicit much debate. But virtually everyone agrees on one thing, doing nothing is irresponsible and dangerous.

We commend Gov. Brown and Secretary Salazar for taking political risks and providing the leadership across many state and federal agencies with their own points of view. We expect them to listen carefully and then to act decisively for the benefit of Californians for generations to come.

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