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Managing the Delta: Is it for People or for Fish?

June 2, 2010

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The Sacramento-San Joaquin River system is on the verge of collapse, according to a new study that ranks the watershed in the number two spot on a list of "America's Most Endangered Rivers." It was released today by the conservation group American Rivers.

John Cain, conservation director for American Rivers, says the question is often, 'Do we manage the river for people or for fish?' He is convinced the state can do both.

"Everybody in the United States should care about this river because it's the water supply for 25 million Californians and it's really the lifeblood behind California's economy – which I think everyone would agree is important to the United States a whole."

Aside from threatening the state's principal water supply, the report points out that scientists have warned increasing rain as a result of climate change threatens catastrophic levee failure that will flood the low-lying cities of Sacramento and Stockton.

In Cain's opinion, the state must overhaul the way it manages water supply and flood protection on the Sacramento-San Joaquin. Otherwise, he warns, the lives of millions of people and the state's economy will continue to be jeopardized.

"First of all, try to integrate the flood protection system with the ecosystem by giving rivers more room to flood. Secondly, to divert less water in dry years – because the system is oversubscribed in dry years, and that's where there's really a conflict."

American Rivers is looking to policymakers to ensure both the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and the Central Valley Flood Plan contain key protections for river health, while also improving water efficiency and non-structural flood management.

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA