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Forum focuses on environmental health of the Delta

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Posted: Wednesday, May 2, 2007 10:00 pm

Kim Odenweller wants her third grade students to be able to enjoy the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta the way she has, for decades to come.

She doesn't want continued pollution to cripple the sprawling estuary's wildlife and recreation.

And that's why she's doing something to help.

Odenweller and more than 50 area residents, environmentalists, politicians, farmers and fishermen gathered Wednesday night at Elkhorn Elementary School in Stockton to discuss the health of the expansive system of wetlands and lowland islands.

"I'm not going to be here in 50 years, but (my students) are - that's why I'm here," said Odeweller, who's lived in the area for 31 years and teaches at Henry Elementary School in Stockton.

"I can go out and see an egret. I had a pair of Swainson hawks nesting across the street from me," she added.

The forum was sponsored by Restore the Delta, a non-governmental coalition of citizens and organizations concerned about the Delta.

Several members of the group spoke at the meeting, detailing both the threats to the estuary and solutions to repairing it.

The continued loss of Delta drinking water to communities in Southern California, pollution from all sectors of life and the emergence of invasive species were all cited as threats.

"The CliffsNotes version of it is: The Delta is polluted, it's worse than you think and the reason is us," said Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

Jennings, a member of the group's steering committee, and others noted that industry and agriculture aren't the only ones to blame for the Delta's degradation. Stormwater runoff from residential communities is also a big factor.

The Delta is home to more than 700 native species of fish, animals and plants. But much of that wildlife could be crippled if water quality standards are not enforced, Jennings and others said.

Along with preserving wildlife, much of the forum focused on the safety of the Delta's levees.

• Formed in 2006 by activists concerned about the future of the Delta.
• Today consists of residents, community groups, business leaders, fishermen, faith-based organizers, farmers, environmental organizations and others.
• Group's mission is to "restore the Delta so that its waters are fishable, swimmable, drinkable and farmable."
• Group's Web site: http://www.restoretheDelta.org.
Source: Restore the Delta.

Barry Nelson, a senior policy analyst with the nonprofit National Resources Defense Council, told the forum that many who live near the Delta are vulnerable because no single flood prevention plan has been created.

"The sobering truth is no one's doing that," said Nelson, also a member of Restore the Delta's steering committee. "The state has no plan for protecting the Delta over the long term."

Several panelists at the forum cited the Central Valley's rapid growth as a continued strain on the Delta.

About 400,000 people live in or around the Delta. Expected growth will add another 100,000 people to the area in coming years.

Nelson noted allowing more growth in flood-prone areas is flirting with disaster.

"We don't want to wake up in 10 or 20 years and realize we've built the 9th Ward in the Delta," he said, referring to the New Orleans district that was inundated when levees failed during Hurricane Katrina.

Contact reporter Chris Nichols at chrisn@lodinews.com.

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