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Earth Day water wars topic stirs debate at Sierra College forum

Placer Water, state Department of Water Resources air concerns
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Earth Week at Sierra College

Earth Day-related events scheduled and open to the public. Parking is $3

Today and Thursday: Earth Day Festival. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the campus center. Bands, speakers, climbing wall (Thursday only), plant sale (today only), organizational and club booths, nature walks.

Thursday: 7 p.m. Dietrich Theater. Wild and Scenic Film Festival (tickets available online).

Friday: 7 p.m. Dietrich Theater. Lee Stetson as John Muir in “Conversation with a Tramp.”

Source: Sierra College

ROCKLIN – Water was the Earth Day topic at a Sierra College forum Tuesday that delved into everything from the current drought to the prospects of sea levels rising in future years.

At the heart of a “Water Wars, Warriors and Climate Change” discussion that drew an estimated 200 people to the Dietrich Theatre was the simmering feud over a draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Area-of-origin water providers like the Placer County Water Agency are in the thick of a high-profile feud over potential ramifications to upstream water supplies.

Einar Maisch, Placer Water strategic affairs director, walked the audience through a plan by the California Department of Water Resources that he said would endanger future water supplies in Northern California, including Placer County’s. The beneficiaries of the plan would be Southern California water exporters facing challenges from saltwater incursions into the Bay Delta, he said.

“It’s a major project funded by exporters,” Maisch said. “They spent a quarter billion dollars and got to decide on the project. It’s about protecting assets from rising sea levels.”

Onboard, to explain the plan from the state of California viewpoint was Paul Helliker, deputy director of the Department of Water Resources, Delta and Statewide Water Management and a 2012 appointee of Gov. Jerry Brown.

Helliker concentrated on benefits from the conservation plan, including 100,000 acres of habitat restoration that had been lost over the past 150 years.

Projections are that climate change will result in an 18-inch rise in sea levels on the edge of the Delta by 2060, he said.

“It’s an issue for all of us to protect the delta,” Helliker said.

Balancing less inflow into reservoirs in the future because of climate change with the need for greater outflow to handle higher sea levels will be a major goal of the project, estimated to cost $24.7 billion.

That will mean water customers will be asked to cut back when necessary, he said.

“But we’re not going to let reservoirs drop down to unusable levels,” Helliker said.

The forum was part of a series of Earth Day activities extending past Tuesday on the Sierra College campus.

Kristine Gilbert, Sierra College environmental studies and sustainability department chairwoman, said that with multiple challenges facing California water supplies and a history of “water wars” dating back more than 150 years, the forum subject was “an exceptionally important topic.”

“It’s not a new issue,” Gilbert said. “Mark Twain said that whisky is for drinkin’ and water is for fighting. California is dealing with significant painful choices.”