Hey you, with that glass of water in one hand and garden hose in the other — ever hear of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta?

Probably not. But don’t feel bad. In a statewide poll earlier this year, a whopping 78% of respondents said they “don’t know or haven’t heard about it” when it comes to the Delta.

So what is it? From a highly informative report by Lauren Sommer of KQED’s QUEST:

The Delta is where California’s two largest rivers come together, carrying runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. To water planners, it looked like the perfect place to tap into. California began building water infrastructure at a massive scale.

Water is exported out of the Delta primarily through two large pumping plants near Tracy, about 60 miles east of San Francisco. Each moves millions of gallons of water a minute. From there, the water rushes into concrete canals that reach Los Angeles, Silicon Valley and millions of acres of farmland.

Okay, but as Joan Didion wrote in her classic 1979 essay about California’s water system, “not many people I know carry their end of the conversation when I want to talk about water deliveries, even when I stress that these deliveries affect their lives, indirectly, every day. ‘Indirectly’ is not quite enough for most people I know.”

So go ahead and watch this video about the Delta, and you and Joan Didion may be able to have a little conversation one day…

By the way, the Delta is the subject of a huge amount of tension between environmentalists and agricultural interests. In a nutshell, “this 700-mile system has made California the state it is today. But it’s come with a cost,” writes Lauren Sommer.

That cost would be a significant decline in the fish population. As Sommer puts it, “how much water should be pumped out, and how much left for fish?” — that’s the question at the heart of the current debate. And this year, California will have to make some big, multi-billion dollar decisions about the future of the Delta and California’s water supply. Read more about it here

To the 78% of Californians Who Don’t Know What the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Is, An Explanation… 7 May,2012Jon Brooks

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