The San Francisco Bay Chapter focuses on San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta — the watershed at the heart of the Bay Area — as well as on smaller local watersheds, both wild and urban. We also work to protect and restore rivers and watersheds throughout California.
The Bay and Delta
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay form the largest estuary on the West Coast south of Alaska. Such estuaries, where fresh and salt water mix, are among the richest zones of biological productivity and diversity. Human impacts, however, have brought this ecosystem to the brink of collapse. The pumps of the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project, in the south Delta, pump southward an ever-increasing volume of water to Central Valley farmers and southern California urban water users. When one adds in other water pumped from the Delta, as well as from rivers upstream of the Delta, this watershed provides 13 million acre-feet of water per year — approximately 30 percent of the total water used by (human) Californians.
That water withdrawal translates into drastically less water flowing through the Delta and supporting Delta life. The reduced flows also allow saltwater to intrude from the ocean. Runoff of fertilizers and pesticides from farming, and of sewage effluent and raw sewage from our cities, pollutes the Delta water. Global climate disruption — with more erratic rainfall and sea-level rise — exacerbates these threats.
People are constantly proposing plans to intensify this water use (or occasionally to moderate it), and so for many decades Sierra Club California and the Bay Chapter have been deeply involved in efforts to protect the Bay and its ecosystems. Most recently, the Sierra Club has opposed Governor Brown’s proposal to construct a pair of tunnels to export more water from the Delta Estuary.
Alternatives to Dams, Ocean Desalination, and Tunnels
The Sierra Club opposes new and raised dams, the twin tunnels to take water from the Delta Estuary, and ocean desalination because they are unreliable and environmentally destructive ways of meeting California's water needs. In a white paper released in December of 2013, Sierra Club California presents alternatives for the future of California water that include recycling, conservation, better groundwater management, and groundwater desalination. The Bay Chapter Water Committee is working to encourage local water agencies to incorporate these strategies in their long-term water-management plans as alternatives to dams, ocean or Bay desalination, and increasing reliance on Delta water.
Until September 2014, when Governor Jerry Brown signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, California was the only Western state that didn't manage groundwater. As a result, many of California's aquifers are critically overdrafted, causing land subsidence, saltwater intrusion, and wells that provide drinking water for many Californians to run dry. The groundwater legislation requires local land planners to have established groundwater sustainability agencies by 2017, to draw up groundwater sustainability plans by 2020, and to have their groundwater basins on a path to sustainability by 2040. Though this may seem like a long time to wait for groundwater sustainability, it won't be quick or easy for Central Valley farmers to make the change from regarding groundwater as private property to understanding that it is a common resource that must be managed and conserved. The Water Committee works with agencies in the San Francisco Bay and Delta to make sure the environment has a voice in decisions about groundwater management.
If you have questions about water issues, or if you have experience or expertise in this area and would like to volunteer, contact one of the leaders of the Chapter's Water Committee.
Read about water issues on our blog.