Rest assured that Richard Frank, executive director of Berkeley Law’s California Center for Environmental Law and Policy (CCELP), knows something about the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. In 2007, after spending three decades in Sacramento steeped in the complexities of California environmental law, Frank was appointed to a key body of experts convened by the state’s governor to study the Delta’s condition. The extensive inland system of channels, lowland islands, wetlands, and levees is a source of fresh water for nearly 70 percent of state residents and a vital habitat for more than 500 species. Frank’s expertise makes his sober assessment of its future all the more harrowing.
“The delta is susceptible to flooding on par with what New Orleans sustained during Hurricane Katrina,” Frank warns. “Many of the levees were built more than 100 years ago, a lot of them from erodible materials. Levee failures could contaminate the delta’s water supply and jeopardize about 400,000 area residents of the floodplain.”
Frank is part of the seven-member Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, established by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in February 2007 to assess and make recommendations for addressing California’s increasingly fragile water status and revitalizing the delta’s declining ecosystem.
Chaired by Berkeley Law graduate Phil Isenberg ’67, the task force released 12 integrated recommendations last year and is currently developing a strategic implementation plan to be announced in October. Among its initial recommendations: improving the levees, building a better system to move water to users, decreasing the amount of water cities take from rivers feeding the delta, and restricting development on area floodplains.
“Our top priorities are maintenance of a reliable water supply and restoration of the delta ecosystem,” Frank says. “No single action can achieve this, but any solution plan will require a cooperative statewide effort to conserve water and adopt measures that deter flooding.”
– By Andrew Cohen