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Legislature must act on water
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As the population of California grows, the imbalance intensifies between the demands for water supplies in the arid regions and the regions where water supplies originate. However north or south, every Californian faces the same problem- resolve years of neglect or deal with dramatically reduced water.

There is no single fix. Our plan must be comprehensive. Essential to addressing our water crisis is emphasizing below and above ground water storage, strengthening conveyance that recognizes area of origin throughout the state, while also improving water reliability, Delta restoration, resource protection and water quality.

There is a unique opportunity here to dedicate millions from bonds already passed, invest in our future and to provide immediate assistance to the critical shortfalls in our water system. Decades of inaction has led to the downward spiral of the Delta's health and the uncertain outlook for reliable water in the state.

Our water infrastructure has become inadequate, yet the state has failed to act. In an already worn and failing system, we are confronted with the challenge to keep pace with the demands of a state growing by 500,000 new people each year.

Adding to the urgency, a recent ruling by a federal judge limiting how much water can be pumped from the San Joaquin Delta will significantly reduce an important supply of water used by 20 million Californians. It makes a normal year a drought year, and exacerbates an already challenging time.

Residents of the Bay Area and Southern California became particularly acute to earlier water rationing this past summer. In response to a declining fish population, a court ruling shut down pumps for 9 days- sending a vivid illustration between California's water supply and the Delta.

Increasing water storage is absolutely essential to ensure that California's farms and residents have enough water when supplies run low. When farmers can no longer farm, and when orchards and vineyards die, the entire State and much of the Nation's economy feels it.

This need is heightened by the past winter - one of the driest on record. Climate models suggest that California will lose at least 25 percent of its snow pack by 2050. Water conservation cannot bear the weight of such a substantial loss in resources. On the other extreme, during the New Year of 2006 excessive rain played havoc with the state's facilities and resident's back yards. This lack of ability to utilize and store water in the Central Valley during wetter years also aggravates flooding problems in the Valley and, especially, in the Delta.

Gambling that Mother Nature will provide adequate and manageable water levels is foolish and irresponsible. We must move forward in a comprehensive solution. The court order and 2006 flooding won't be the last disaster to the Delta and the state unless we proceed with storage, conservation, flood protection - the entire package.

While solutions are being studied and debated, it is important for residents and business to understand the importance of the Delta as part of the complex water delivery method throughout the state. The Delta is much more than a crossroads of California's water, where massive pumps deliver 6 million acre-feet a year to two of every three Californians; nearly 25 million residents from Redding to San Diego.

The sprawling natural resource, lined with 1,100 miles of levees and a complex matrix of water passages supports vital energy, transportation, communication and water facilities, and directly contributes to a $400 billion share of California's economy in agriculture and recreational resources.

However, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is in a deep crisis. Its fish populations are plummeting. Its aging levees are fragile and could fail, threatening hundreds of native species and communities, gas lines, highways, high-voltage lines and railroads. It makes no sense to move forward with any reform that does not address and provide for Delta viability.

I find it encouraging that plans are on the horizon to strengthen levees, sustain water quality, and rehabilitate wetland ecosystem. Other opportunities will be presented by the need to create a system of flood easements acquired on currently farmed acreages for temporary flooding or wetlands creation. The delta presents an opportunity to preserve a natural resource that facilitates fishing, farming, and a scenic land that makes California the impressive state that it is.

It is unfortunate that the Delta is at an environmental tipping point. It is even more disturbing that faced with water rationing, increasing water capacity has yet to begin. Until we come to grips with a comprehensive solution that also provides a new way to manage the West Coast's largest estuary, we resolve ourselves to water shortages, environmental catastrophe and destructive flooding.

There is no single water problem in the state. How we manage these risks is entirely dependent on weather or not the state's water system can finally get the attention it requires. We cannot afford to be shortsighted by focusing on quick fixes and lesser priorities. By not moving forward and addressing the entire state, we are compromising safe drinking water, the safety of our communities, and our economy.

Assemblyman Tom Berryhill represents the 25th Assembly District, which covers parts of east Ceres, as well as eastern Stanislaus County, and includes all or parts of Madera, Calaveras, Tuolumne, Mariposa and Mono counties.