Delta Smelt Dialogue
On a whole, the value of Social Media is certainly debatable. Sites like Twitter and Facebook are a balance of useful information, useless information, and misinformation. Instagram, the one Social Media site I enjoy participating in, is apparently no exception.
Earlier this morning I was quickly scanning through my feed when I stumbled upon this picture.
Posted by National Geographic's excellent account, it's a photo of the controversial Delta Smelt. The caption states that the photo was taken at a "four-day spring trawl" back in 2005. This fish represents the only fish caught in those four days.
What follows the photo's short caption is a stream of more than 1,600 comments. Should you bold enough to attempt reading these comments, you will find yourself sludging through a sea of opinions, information, and misinformation. Is the Smelt a vital part of the California Delta ecosystem? Some say yes, others no. Is the Smelt a native species or invasive species? Both stances were asserted in the comments. Are the populations even at risk, as Nat Geo asserted? Some says yes, while others argue a flawed counting system is to blame.
The point debated in the comments section that most piqued my interest was regarding water diversions for the Smelt. In case this story is unfamiliar to you: In order for the Delta Smelt to survive, the salinity of the California Delta must be kept in check. To accomplish that, especially in drought conditions, surface water (rain and melted snow pack) must be dumped into the Delta to offset the encroaching salt water from the Pacific Ocean. The reason this action is controversial is because that same surface water is needed to irrigate the millions of acres of farm land in California. It's also the bulk of the water supply for urban and township use.
The heart of the Smelt debate lies in the tug and pull between both interests. Who is more deserving of the water? The endangered Delta Smelt, or the people and crops of California? Some comments asserted that saving the Smelt should be priority number one. "Everything has a purpose in life..." one woman asserted. "Extinction of an entire species has consequences..." another chimed in.
To me, the real consequences lie in allowing these diversions to continue. As it is, the vast majority of California water is dedicated to environmental use. According to the Northern California Water Association, 49% of California Water goes to instream flows, wild and scenic rivers, managed wetlands, and required Delta outflows. Those outflows alone add up to 7% of the State's entire water supply. If you look at the numbers for just the Sacramento Valley, Delta outflows make up 24% of the entire water supply. Nearly a quarter of the water applied to the Sacramento Valley gets dumped into the ocean in the name of one tiny little fish. Meanwhile irrigated agriculture gets only 41% of the State's water supply.
Now... Don't get me wrong. I am by no means asserting that nature and wildlife aren't entitled to the world's resources. Clean water, fresh air, open spaces... this is important stuff which must be maintained properly. But in the case of the Delta Smelt, particularly during this drought, things are going too far. California has somewhere between 25 and 27 million acres of farm land. The crops those farms grow are vital to the nation's food supply and the California economy. For two consecutive years, farmers water supply has been cut. Ground sits fallow, orchards have died and been uprooted, and the labor force which maintains all of this has been scaled back. People are hurting. Meanwhile the Smelt get their guaranteed allocation.
Ask anyone in agriculture about this topic, and you will likely get a passion filled critique of these diversions to the Delta. The Instagram photo was riddled with such comments. How this will all play out long term is unclear. The one thing which is clear to me: something needs to change, be it a new attitude about water use and what's truly important in this state, or a new weather pattern. Which of the two comes first is anyone's guess.